Monday, March 31, 2014

Nico 101

Hey guys! 

So since I still have no more official news from NSLI-Y, I have decided to introduce myself/put myself out there a bit, since maybe newcomers to this blog (HAH - if there are any xD) might not know where this all originated from.

So, hello there. 
My name is Nicholas Borbely, but I typically go by Nico. I'm a 17-year-old high school junior from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am hugely passionate about languages, other countries and cultures, traveling, human rights, peacemaking, LGBT(QIA) rights, politics, international relations, reading, writing, music, history, animals, swimming, skiing, photography, capoeira, and so on.
My greatest passion is probably languages, which I've been super into since I was about eleven or twelve years old. I speak four languages to varying degrees: native English, fluent Italian, as my wonderful mother hails from a tiny town in northern Italy (and her entire side of the family is there), decent Spanish, which I've taken in school for three years, and haphazard (Egyptian) Arabic, from the ten-month exchange which I spent in Alexandria, Egypt, with AFS Intercultural Programs from September 2012 to June 2013. I want to learn many more as well, including Finnish, Turkish, Korean, Swedish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Czech, Dutch, Portuguese, German, Basque, Maltese, Hebrew, and Russian.
I've been lucky to have some incredible experiences which have helped me explore the world and its linguistic, cultural, and anthropological wonders. I have visited my relatives and close friends in Italy at least once a year for my whole life, and I even spent the second semester of my eighth grade year in my grandmother's home, studying at a local Italian middle school, from August 2010 to January 2011, which allowed me to deepen my familiarity and fluency with the place and in the language which have always been a part of me.
Then I started high school, which I've spent studying at a new International Baccalaureate, or IB, high school, as part of its soon-to-be inaugural graduating class - IB is essentially an advanced, internationalized curriculum which is offered and recognized in almost all of the world's countries. The opportunities I've been exposed to, the things that I've learned, and the amazing  friends that I've made make all of the late nights of project/essay writing and hair pulling (of which there are a great many) more than worth my while. :)
Then in September 2012, having completed my freshmen year, I embarked on the greatest adventure of my life so far, my year in Alexandria, Egypt with AFS, my year in the mother of the world, for which I started this blog. This experience was intense; immensely challenging yet equally rewarding. I lived with the Radwans, my lovely host family, and attended Taymour English School. My host family was by far the best thing about my exchange; they have truly become a second family to me, and I miss them very much. My experience at school was not a highlight of my experience, to put it lightly. But I still did make a few friends there that I'm glad to have met. Overall, my experience in Egypt was a challenge, as living in a country with a culture and a language so utterly different from everything I'd ever known with no one I knew by my side could be imagined. But it was equally rewarding in so many ways. My host family made everything worth it, taking me in like a brother and a son. I made amazing friends I never would have otherwise. I got to travel to beautiful places - I lived in Alexandria, I visited Cairo multiple times, and also got to explore the lesser known but beautiful cities of Ismailia, Luxor, and Aswan. And I gained an imperfect but solid base in one of the world's most beautiful and expressive languages, and an inside view of a hugely misunderstood religion and culture. So in spite of whatever hardships there were to face, it was an unbelievably worthwhile experience, which I'm very proud of. :)

And now.
As I've previously mentioned, last fall, my linguistic curiosity and passionate wanderlust stronger than ever, I applied to the NSLI-Y scholarship, with my top choices being Turkish, Russian, which I later changed to Korean, and Persian, in humble hopes that I might receive the honor of one of these amazing scholarships and get to dive headfirst into a completely new language, culture, and country. And it has payed off, more so that I ever could have hoped. :)
I will be leaving for Bursa four days after I finish finals this June, and spend six weeks there studying Turkish with a group of other Americans.
I know little more than this at the moment, so that's all I will leave you with. But for now I take solace in the fact that I am lucky enough to partake in this wonderful adventure.
Once again, thank you NSLI-Y. <3

Then, I return a week prior to the first day of my senior year, after which I intend to proceed on to college, likely to major in linguistics, anthropology, linguistic anthropology, some regionally specific cultural studies, international relations/studies, or something along those lines. I'm not entirely sure which college in particular yet, but I'm looking at the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin Madison, Indiana U Bloomington, U of Toronto, and several others.

So there you go.
This has been a post.
I sincerely hope that I've not bored you all with my incessant rambling about myself, but I just wanted to put myself out there and say hi to any newcomers. So hi. :)

I will be back as soon as I have any more exciting or significant news or thoughts.
Thanks as usual for reading everyone.
Until next time,

Hey it's my face! :P
^My current favorite song. Just felt like adding it in. 

Friday, March 14, 2014


So I'm not one to type in all caps with a boatload of exclamation points, but....


Okay, and now that little public service announcement is over. Please return to your regularly scheduled Internet activities.

Today, after school, I was standing in a circle with a group of my best friends, laughing and talking normally, when my phone buzzed.
Just like the moment in which I got my semi-finalist notification back in December, it came at a moment in which I was NOT expecting it at all.
I pulled out my phone and casually checked it, thinking it would be nothing more than a meaningless Facebook notification or a "we're here" text from my carpool waiting outside. But instead, it was an email from NSLI-Y, and though I couldn't make out the entirety of the message, the sentence fragment "you have been selected..." was clearly visible.
I gasped out loud, frightening my friends quite a bit, and then, as my heart began to pound like a brass drum, I proceeded to download the attachment so that I could actually see where I had been picked to go, and saw that it was Turkey. :)

I will be studying Turkish in Bursa for six weeks this summer, from about June 23 to August 11.

That's about all I can say at the moment, no more information to report, really.
But if I notice any, I'll tell you all about it for sure.

For now, I just want to say: to NSLI-Y, to the State Department, to American taxpayers, to everyone that made it possible for me to make it this far: thank you all so much from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity to make yet another of my many dreams come true. Çok teşekkür ederim!

And thank you guys too, for following my adventures from home to Alexandria and back, and now to Bursa. :)
Expect more from me, now that I know I'm going for sure.
I may even start making YouTube videos or something! Who knows...
But güle güle for now.
-Nico :)

                                     A fitting song.
My favorite Turkish song. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Teen Polyglot Challenge - Jag ska lära svenska!

Hey guys!

So the month of March, and the Teen Polyglot Challenge, are now upon us.

I won't go very far into explaining just what the Teen Polyglot Challenge is, other than posting this Tim Doner video that I was going to anyway. :P

If you don't know who Tim Doner is, he is an American teenager who has become well known for being able to speak (to varying degrees) over twenty languages. He's basically my idol and I very highly admire him. :3

So long story short, I am going to be participating in the challenge, learning Swedish!
At first I was a bit conflicted about which language to learn. Like I've previously mentioned, I have a lot of languages that I'm interested in; at first I thought about learning Finnish, since that's the language I most want to learn and am most interested in. But the requirements for the challenge are pretty hefty, and so I figured that trying to participate in the challenge with a language so different from anything I know might not be the best idea, given the time constraint. I narrowed it down to either Swedish or Portuguese (two languages that are very similar to my respective mother tongues of English and Italian), and I decided to go with Swedish. :)
I told you the reasons I'm interested in all the languages I want to learn in this post that I wrote all the way back in my first months in Egypt, but in case you don't recall (which I doubt anyone does :P), I'm interested in Swedish mainly because of heritage - my American grandmother is of Swedish origin - and also just because I think Sweden looks like a truly amazing and beautiful country, and I'm very interested in not just Sweden and Swedish culture, but Scandinavia and Scandinavian cultures in general.

Long story short, here goes nothing!
I won't be going it alone though - my friend Chathu is also participating in the challenge, with the equally beautiful/amazing if not somewhat more challenging goal of picking up some Korean.
We've got this (I hope). xD
All kidding aside, I have high hopes. This will be fun!

Still no NSLI-Y news, much to the chagrin of my sanity. -.- I've got my fingers crossed, taking deep breaths, and am trying to exercise patience. :)

That's all for now, friends.
Hej då!

PS: To any readers who happen to be participating in the challenge as well, GOOD LUCK! :D

(^My three favorite Swedish songs, all belonging to the wonderful, talented, and wonderfully talented Veronica Maggio, a lovely Swedish singer (of Italian origin to boot). Enjoy! :))

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Hey everyone! 
Sorry for the long silence.
Today I'm back because I wanted to share some thoughts about a lovely experience which I just recently had: I spent my mid-winter break with my family in the amazingly gorgeous Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico. And what better way to procrastinate on my Love in the Time of Cholera essay which I have to complete for school than talking about the vacation I so unwillingly came back from?! :P

So a quick note on the title of the post: The Spanish word descansar, meaning "to rest," but literally meaning something along the lines of "to de-tire." I've been studying Spanish for about three years now, and this has always been one of my favorite words in Spanish, because I believe that the idea that the literal meaning of descansar conveys is exactly how resting should be at its most beneficial. I thought of this word frequently in Isla Mujeres, as it's probably one of the best places I've ever been in which to descansar. :)
Isla Mujeres is a little 7-kilometer long island located a 15-minute ferry ride away from Cancun. My family had been there on vacation at this time last year while I was away in Alexandria, but this year we got to go all together! :)
On the 15th, my family and I all piled into an airport cab and headed off to a much needed, very warm week in Mexico.
It was pretty astonishing - after a three-hour direct flight from Detroit to Cancun and a brief ferry ride to the island itself, we were transported from the frigid, windswept winter wonderland of Michigan in mid-February to a Caribbean island in southern Mexico with nothing but crystalline water and cloudless cobalt skies as far as the eye could see.
I won't give a day-by-day description of the trip, as due to the rhythm of the trip and the pace of the days, the days quickly began to run together. Now, I can still, of course, remember the events of the trip in quite vivid detail; but I remember few of the specific dates on which they took place.
So I'll just mention some events quickly, and then just some activities I really enjoyed + cultural notes.
The first event I wanted to mention was that one day, in the middle of the trip, my parents, my sister, and I rented a golf cart and drove it all the way to the southern tip of the island (our hotel was on the northern tip, so it was a little ways for us), where there is a colonial house called the Hacienda Mundaca, and also what's left over of a temple to the Mayan goddess of fertility, Ixchel (the island used to be sacred to her for the Maya, and the abundant statues of Ixchel on the island is quite likely the reason that the island came to be called Isla Mujeres - "island of women"). We didn't see either of them from up close, but we did manage to get a good look on some pretty spectacular cliffs over the sea.
The other event I wanted to mention was ziplining. On that same golf cart trip to the southern tip of the island, we stopped at this place called Garrafon Park, and my sister and I rode on their zipline, which consisted of three different towers with four segments between them, two segments of which were entirely suspended over the sapphire-colored water.
At first I remember being very nervous and thinking of reconsidering, but I'm glad I never voiced that consideration, because it ended up being a ton of fun with a great view to boot. :)
I'm no crazy daredevil, but I always have a lot of fun with things like ziplining, I guess stemming from the fact that I've been fascinated with birds since I was a very little kid and I've always found stuff like that which tangibly stimulates flight quite enjoyable.

Aside from these cool experiences, it was very interesting culturally. I had never been anywhere in Latin America before, and after that first taste of it in Isla Mujeres, I can only say I'm intrigued and wish to continue exploring it. :) The culture and the pace of life reminded me a lot of both Egypt and Italy, southern Italy in particular. There definitely are lots of parallels between Latin, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cultures - lots of similarities in the attitudes, the ways of speaking and dealing with other people, the warmth and hospitality, and so on.
I also had a great time dabbling a little bit in the indigenous cultures of the area - we met a few Mayan speakers, most notably our friendly taxi driver on the way to the Cancun Airport when we were headed home, who taught us the word "koix (or at least I think that's how it's spelled,)" which is equivalent to "vamos," or "let's go."
This was great for me, being a person who's always exited to learn about local cultures anywhere I go. And I had been wondering quite a bit about Mayan culture in the weeks leading up to our vacation, since we were off to the Yucatan.
Aside from the one word I now know of Yucatec Maya thanks to our taxi driver, I also was able to practice my Spanish a lot - it surely was not an immersion experience, but I daresay I managed to understand and communicate very well using Spanish.

And I'll just wrap up my thoughts on my trip to Isla Mujeres by telling you all a story about the day that we arrived: So I make sure to listen to music in all the languages that I know and am interested in learning, and Spanish is no exception. One of my favorite Spanish songs is "Pasos de gigante" by the Mexican band Bacilos, which I was first introduced to by my 9th grade Spanish teacher, who had us listen to and translate it. I had just been listening to it on the flight to Cancun. And while we awaited our ferry to Isla Mujeres from Cancun's Puerto Juarez, it came on the radio. A bit of an odd coincidence, but it made me very happy for some reason.
Y ahora unas fotos (and now some pictures):
From the descent into Cancun. 

On the Ultramar ferry.

The town (it was siesta time).

The view from a window in the lobby.

Our first sunset on the island.

One of the world's hidden gems, Piscina del Rey. 

Our hotel

The cliffs of the southern coast.
There were tons of these big, grey iguanas on the cliffs there.

Seagulls roosting on what seemed to be an old dock. 

I'm so happy I got this one. :) 

On the way home.
And now I'm going to leave you guys with my favorite Spanish songs, which I listened to quite a bit on the trip. :)

^(This one is in Portuguese, not Spanish. But it's still lovely, still Latin American, and definitely perfect to listen to on the beach :))

Thanks as always for following me and keeping up with my adventures. :) 

Not much to report other than the trip to Isla Mujeres. Things are stressful but flowing forward at school, and I actually just took the ACT today (we don't have to talk about that...). I just returned from an emotional but very enjoyable gathering with my father's extended family in New Jersey prior to a service to honor my grandfather who, sadly, passed away in January at the age of 92. And my second choice for NSLI-Y is no longer Russian, but now Korean, mainly due to the fact that I have gained great interest in Korean language and culture in my participation in a club at my school known as Everyone's Free, which works to raise money and awareness to save North Korean refugee children. 
I still have no news from NSLI-Y, and I'm beginning to go crazy for that reason. I'm trying as much as I can to keep calm and go about my daily activities normally to keep a level head. :) 
That's all one can do, no?

Thanks again for reading, folks. 
I'll hopefully be back soon enough. 
안녕히 가세요 for now (practicing my new second choice :) )! 
Nico / 니코

(I'll leave you with one more video, my favorite Korean song :P)