Life in China (A Series of Mini Posts)

I have come to the humbling realization that despite speaking Chinese at home with my parents for the past 20 years, I still have the language skills of a Chinese 3rd grader. Apparently, there’s more to speaking a language than asking mom what’s for dinner everyday. 

If math were like the Chinese language, we would use a different symbol to represent every number instead of putting digits together to create larger numbers. There would also be 60,000ish numbers but we would only use about 2000 in normal everyday equations. People will often forget how to write certain numbers. They will ask the nearest mathematician who will chuckle with embarassment and shrug because they also don’t know. 

The term “APEC blue” was coined to describe the clear blue skies that appear when the Chinese government shuts down all the factories surrounding Beijing and bans half of the cars on the road to ensure good air quality for important national/international events like the APEC summit, olympics, military parade, etc… Anyway, I think that’s my new favorite color.

Chinese cafeteria ladies are terrifying. Don’t ever waste more than 5 seconds of their time when ordering food. 

My roommate keeps coming home drunk at 3 in the morning, ordering Mcdonalds (they deliver here!), and then promptly passing out after calling them. Which means that I’m left to deal with the angry delivery guy showing up at our dorm at 3:30 wondering why the crap she didn’t answer her phone. This has happened at least 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Every time I have very patiently woken her up so that she could get her food and pay for it. Next time I swear I’m just going to eat it. 

Today was a rare sunny, blue skied, pollution free day. I even saw a cloud! It was so beautiful that I cried a little. 

My program organized a “language partner activity” today where we were paired up with a Chinese student and spent an hour speaking English and an hour speaking Chinese. I’m pretty sure the whole thing was an elaborate ploy by the teachers to set us all up on blind dates.

I’m starting to miss little things about living in the United States. Like salad, and Netflix, and tap water that won’t kill you. Also breathing. You know, just the small stuff. 

Seriously though, like who even came up with this writing system? Also, Chinese dictionaries are ridiculous. In the time it takes me to look up one word, I could walk down to the coffee shop, make a new friend, have them do my homework for me, and still have time to order dessert. (That, my friends, is called opportunity cost.) Thank goodness for smart phones.

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An Introduction of Sorts

Hi, my name is Anna Sun (yes, like the song), I’m a third year computer science major, and I will be studying abroad at the China Studies Institute in Beijing this fall. I guess the one thing you should know about me is that I have a great appreciation for the small things in life (Literally, I’m obsessed with tiny houses, Mini Coopers, puppies, and other miniature things). I also love discovering the differences in the tiny minutia of everyday life in other countries. So if you’re curious to know the wonders of Chinese online shopping, how bargaining works, and do the Chinese really eat …(fill in the blank)!? (The answer is probably yes, by the way), then you’ve come to the right place!

My decision to study abroad in China wasn’t the most conventional. As a first generation Chinese American, I was born in China, my entire family is from China, I’ve visited China multiple times and I speak fluent Mandarin. For me, studying abroad in China is less about experiencing a new culture or learning a new language and more about connecting with my heritage. There was also another very important reason. At first I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to study abroad at all but after learning that DU had a partner program with the China Studies Institute in Beijing, realized that I absolutely had to go there. I was completely set on going to this specific program because it would be my one chance to study at Beijing University, a school that is spoken of with reverence and awe by my family and revered by Chinese people everywhere. To students in China, Beijing University is the ultimate goal. Being able to attend to the top university in a country of over a billion people is something that most students can only dream about, and here it was being to offered to me with a little checkbox.

I have a feeling that this will be one of the best decisions in my life. There is still so much to experience and learn from the oldest continuous civilization on Earth. Also, having grown up in the United States for the vast majority of my life, China can still be strange and foreign to me; I’m still shocked by the squatty potties, the nonexistent traffic laws, the children peeing in the street with their crotchless pants, and the little old ladies violently fighting over the last eggplant at the market. I’m excited to get this adventure started.

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I Like Unicorns and Long Walks on the Beach – Nice to Meet You.

IMG_2721Well to start off, hello everybody! My name is Emily Rowe and it’s true, I am a sucker for Unicorns and long walks on the beach. I chose to study at Mahidol University in Salaya, Thailand because Thailand topped (and still tops) my list of must-see travel destinations for the past five years. At DU I am an international business and finance double major, spanish and economics double minor. I am a surf instructor/surfer, yogi, photographer, and explorer. But more about the study abroad stuff.

As always, there is a small little bubbling feeling inside of my stomach every time I pack my bags to travel. It’s not the bubbles of a big rolling boil; it’s more like the playful little bubbles in a champagne flute. It’s like feeling the first sprinkles of a heavy rainstorm on my hands. There’s a positive energy that surrounds my thoughts as I book my flights (Yes plural, I am going to China first!), as I scan the Internet for hostels, and scour tourism pages for things to do. As always, with thirty-plus countries visited and counting, I know the travel drill. Yet Thailand is different. This will be the first time I travel alone outside of the U.S.A. – so my list of things to accomplish changes a little.

I want to come back with secret stories.

     No, not a story about the fact that I went on the trip, no one cares about that. I want the stories of the people, places, and things in Thailand. I grew up with the idea that you, me, my dog, the local zoo’s giraffe, and everything/everyone else are all results of only three things: everywhere we’ve ever been, everything we’ve ever done, and everyone we’ve ever met. I want to meet the people of Thailand and have their culture leave an imprint on my mannerisms, I want to see beautiful ancient ruins and religious symbols and understand their significance, and I want to surf, hike, and explore one of the most beautiful countries the world. I call them ‘secret’ stories because they are only to be talked about when the company is right, the conversation drifts to travel, and there is contentment in sharing our gradually collected secrets of the world.

I want to do what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it.IMG_20150903_100023

I often travel with my dad and, as much as I love my dad and we enjoy our vacations, he does not want to go backpacking anywhere anymore. At age fifty-three he is ready to check in to a nice hotel and enjoys periodic café breaks and museum visits. I plan on flying into Hong Kong and backpacking through Tibet. I am excited to fly over to Thailand and explore the culture in Bangkok, travel away to small villages on the weekends, and go surfing all day with only food/water breaks. I am excited to put a little bit more adventure in my travels and tread down a few un-beaten paths.

 I want to further my alter ego, @emilyy.sea.

     I am sponsored by roughly fifty-five companies on Instagram – the biggest one being Billabong. I receive lots of free merchandise because I am a professional photographer, a surf instructor/surfer, and an avid yogi. As a result, I am constantly taking photos, shooting videos, and in general working creatively to promote products and showcase a lifestyle. China, Thailand, Indonesia, Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and anywhere else I can squeeze in will provide creative inspiration and beautiful backdrops – helping me further my ability to work with more companies.

Immunizations? Check. Malaria medication? Check. A new backpack? Check. Flights and travel Itinerary? Check. Postcards and lots of love for the people who will be waiting/watching over me while I am away? Check.

I think I am ready to board my flight… China in 23hr and 53min.

Top 5 Must-Try Korean Teas

Koreans, and many of Korea’s neighbors drink tea. I knew this before studying abroad, so I brought my mom’s favorite tea with as a gift to share with Koreans to provide a small comparison. Here is a list of teas I was introduced to while studying abroad.

생강차 Ginger Tea

Ginger tea is considered a medicinal, and believed to ease fatigue, warm the body, and neutralize toxicity in the body. Koreans will often drink this tea at the first signs of a cold to prevent it from getting worse.

If you are interested in trying ginger tea, I recommend going to a local store that sells Korean foods and look for a glass jar where the ginger is mixed with honey and sugar. All you need to do is drop a heaping spoonful into glass of hot water, stir, and viola!

Tea2유자차 Citron Tea

Yuja is a type of citrus fruit; in this tea slices of the yuja, including the rind, are cut and mixed with sugar or honey. It is a great drink for winter, and if you find the ginseng flavor too strong citron tea is a delicious tasting alternative for fighting off colds.

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보리차 Barley Tea

When I stayed with a Korean family for a week I was surprised that they boiled all of the water they drank, even though the water from faucets was deemed safe for consumption by the government. Often, instead of drinking plain water, they made tea. One of the teas used to substitute plain water is barley tea. Unlike most Korean teas, barley has a nutty flavor. It is also good for digestion.

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It can be purchased in single serving tea bags, or in larger pouches when used for larger quantities of water. You can also buy bottled barley tea and can find it in almost every convenience store.

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현미녹차 Roasted Brown Rice Green Tea

Roasted brown rice green tea is also a popular in Japan, and goes by the name genmaicha. I love the nutty roasted flavor in this tea. If it is an option nine out of ten times I will choose roasted brown rice green tea over plain green tea.

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Flowering Teas

If you have the opportunity, I recommend going to a tea cafe that is known for serving flowering teas. A small tightly bound ball of tea is dropped into a cup of hot water. Then watch as the ball blooms into a beautiful flower and creates a pleasant tea for you to drink.

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Food!

NicoleFood1NicoleFood2Your time abroad is THE time to have adventures, try new things, and immerse yourself in an entirely new world. Where is the best place to dip your toes in the water of a new culture? For me, it was food! Near the center of Beijing there is this lighted, stinky back alley between buildings that on any given night is packed with people. On either side there are food vendors, and there is an entire section just for souvenirs that you can bargain for. This place is called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng) and in Beijing, it is the place to get crazy and adventurous food! What was the craziest thing I ate while abroad aside from camel meat? Scorpions! Multiple food vendors in this alley sell either three small scorpions on a stick or one big one. After you order one (alive) they put it in a deep fryer, spice is up, and then you get to chow down! After the initial fear of even putting it in my mouth, I ate it and it was actually pretty good tasting! (好吃!) Minus the legs of course!

NicoleFood3The next thing I had to try, of course, was starfish, on a stick! My two friends and I decided to split the starfish, however the vendor never told us how to properly eat it. After taking the first bite into the hard, salty, and crunchy shell the vendor man started laughing at me! He then proceeded to let me know that you are supposed to crack open the outside shell and eat the insides…. Well at least it didn’t taste that bad! I only took two bites and then I had to pass it off to my friend, probably not something I would eat again,

What better to follow up Starfish with than Snake?  While I do not have a picture of this creature, it was a small, skinny snake with the head still attached, spiraled around a skewer. After biting into part of the body, I realized that it has almost no taste and was all crunch. Then I had the pleasure of eating the head… no so great!

I finished my adventurous night of eating with mini, tart apples covered in some type of candied coating. Delicious!NicoleFood4 After the fried ice cream, and hard candies that followed, my friends and I tested our skills at bargaining. In China, if you go to market, there are not set prices for items to purchase. The vendor gives you a price that is usually outrageously high, the buyer suggests a very low price in comparison and you bargain down to a middle ground. Bargaining in Chinese was one of the most valuable language lessons I learned, and I was able pay less! Overall it is a great culture to learn from!

– Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

The Ups and Downs of Service Learning

As a proud Pioneer, our motto: “Private University for the Public Good” is something that has resonated with me since my first quarter on campus. I internalized the idea that we are supposed to train and self-educate at school so we can then go into the world and make it a better place. I’ve always been impressed with how many of our students are involved in philanthropy, the way that our Greek community makes it a priority, and all of the opportunities that DU presents to involve ourselves in our surrounding community.

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However, things get a little sticky when you start taking that motto to the international community. What I mean by that is, I want to ‘help’ and I want to make the world ‘better’. How do I do that without stepping on the culture and identities of others? How can I help, internationally, without living out the negative criticisms of ‘voluntourism’

Last Winter Interterm I spent three weeks in Dharamsala, India, teaching English and computer skills to Tibetan refugee women. I signed up through DU’s International Service Learning programs, and went with a group of 15 DU Undergrad and Graduate students. We were a diverse group of students from all across campus, but all came together to study Tibetan Non-Violence, and to volunteer with a Dharamsala Non-Profit for the month of December.

My trepidation before the trip was whether or not my three weeks would actually matter to these women. I was concerned that I was going on this trip to make myself feel good about helping the world, regardless of whether or not I was actually even helping anyone. I bought into the idea that all of us university students are travelling internationally more for selfish reasons than to be selfless. I began to view my trip as just another exercise of privilege.

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I had a lot of inner turmoil about my choice, and suffered from a bit of self-hate as a voluntourist. However, after coming back from my trip, and after interacting with the community, I learned a few very encouraging things:

  1. Teaching IS helping. Regardless of the fact that I felt 3 weeks was not nearly enough to help anyone, it was three more weeks that those women could be in a classroom with a native English speaker. The Tibetan Women’s Association didn’t have any other teachers during December, so I was actually able to provide them with a tangible service they would have gone without, had I not been there.
  2. Good Intentions can create positive results. Many critics of voluntourism bring up the idiom that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. I get it. Maybe 18 year old college students with no trade skills aren’t necessarily better at building houses than local trained (but unemployed) carpenters. But… does that mean that we are useless? I don’t think so. I think that the services provided through non-profits often do greatly help communities.
  3. The power of story-sharing. Through interacting with the Tibetan refugee community, so many individuals repeated how cathartic and healing it can be to share their story. In a community facing oppression or expulsion from their home territory, these individuals have felt vindicated by receiving support from the international community. The opportunity to sit and let them tell me their story, no matter how serious or how silly, was enjoyable for me, and seemed immensely valuable to them. They knew that I couldn’t go home and demand political change from President Obama. But we could feel mutually satisfied through connecting with someone across cultures.

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After my experience living in India for 1 short month, I felt rejuvenated that we truly can make a difference, that DU students interacting with the international community can benefit everyone involved, and that I’m still proud as ever to be a Pio that takes my university experience beyond the borders of our campus.

Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

The Seven Wonders of China!

As determined by student who studied Abroad in China!

1. The Great Wall of China

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The Great Wall of China was built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern boarders of China during the 7th Century BC to protect China from invading enemies. This beautiful structure is now one of the most famous tourist sites in China, and still one of the most breathtaking. After a 45 minute stair climb up the face of a mountain, my friends and I arrived at the most preserved section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu, and it was breathtaking!

Once on the Wall, you get to explore the watch towers, see the ancient cannons, and experience what it would have been like to be a soldier, watcher on the wall! The Wall itself curves, rises, and falls with the mountain peaks and flows of the land. Made completely of stone, this wall stretches for 5,500 total miles, ending in the sea! The Great Wall of China has been declared as one of the Seven Wonders of World, and its grand beauty earns it a spot on our list!

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2. The Summer Palace, Beijing, China

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The Summer Palace consists of sprawling hills, Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. This Palace was created when Emperor Wanyan Liang moved the capital of the Jin Dynasty to Beijing and the lake was built to bring the sea to the emperor.

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On a Sunny day, the lake glistens and the beautiful ancient Chinese structures glow. Each building has its own unique designs that mirror the Jin Dynasty!

My friends and I are convinced that every tourist site in China is meant to give visitors a workout because the Summer Palace also involves some stair and hill climbing, however it is extremely worth it to see these manmade structures that have withstood thousands of years.

3. Mountains of Yangshou, Yunnan Province, China

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China7Located on the Li River, the town of Yangshou is surrounded by mountains, unlike any other in the world. Their unique and odd shapes create a landscape to remember. Each individual peak is its own mountain and they stick out of the ground like razor sharp teeth.

My Friends and I floated the Li River with old school wooden rafts and long bamboo sticks to guide us through the water. The fog that surrounded the mountains made it seem almost surreal and otherworldly.

4. The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China

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The Terracotta army are sculptures which depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, to protect him in the afterlife as a form of funerary art. The 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 520 horses that have been found so far date back to the 3rd century BCE. They are really old! Only 2 out of the four pits have been unearthed and continue to be excavated, so there may be thousands more than have gone undiscovered. This site is almost unbelievable and the soldiers themselves have uncanny resemblance to real human faces. Each soldier has its own unique facial features and hair styles to represent the living soldiers that protected the emperor in life.

China95. The Bund, Shanghai, China

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The Bund is a waterfront area in central Shanghai that houses some of the most unique and beautiful buildings in the world. My friends and I took a boat tour on the river to see both sides of the bund at night and the colors are stunning! Gotta love that neon!

These building are on an island that is accessible by a tunnel that goes under the ocean or a bridge. Some of the most famous skyscrapers include ‘The Pearl.” In this picture you can see the tallest building in the world, set to be finished in Fall 2015.

The picture below is the view from the 100th floor of the Financial Tower, the current tallest building in the world, until the tower next to it is finished anyway. It is insane realize our ability to build so high!

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6. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, China

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Quite literally, the clearest, bluest, and most beautiful lake I have ever seen rests at the foot of this small mountain range. Located in the Southern Province of Yunnan, the Dragon Snow Mountain is full of glacier peaks and valley grasslands.

With built in walkways and trees to hang your wishes in, this area is one you must see to believe and the lakes, pictured above and below are so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom both in crystal clear blue and a copper green, they are unlike anything else!

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7. ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, China

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Recognize these mountains? It is very likely that you do because this National Forest was the filming site for the Hallelujah Floating Mountains in the Blockbuster film, “Avatar.” These mountains are what inspired the world of Pandora for James Cameron, the Director of the movie, and they look like they came straight out of a science fiction movie.

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With mountain formations unlike any other in the world that were formed solely by water erosion over millions of years, these mountains top the list of 7 Wonders of China, as seen by a student who studied abroad there. Now go and Explore!

-Nicole Paulsen, Study Abroad Assistant

Emilie’s Korean Street Foods You Must Try

Koreans have a rich food culture. If you ever visit Korea, these street foods are all a must-try. As a foreigner, Koreans are very curious about what food you have tried and liked. “Yes I’ve tried soondae. Yes, it’s delicious!” When I answered yes to both of those questions I’d get extra brownie points from Koreans—you can too!

Tteokbokki-spicy rice cakes. I’m with a classmate walking to the subway after finishing a night class and we are both starving. My classmate spots a street food cart and drags me over with her. Tonight is Tteokbokki night!

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Tteokbokki is spicy, a little too spicy for my sensitive American tongue, but still delicious. I like rice cakes, but what I really enjoy are the pieces of odang (fish cake), green onions, cabbage, and egg—I love hard boiled eggs.

Soondae– blood sausage filled with glass noodles. The cold wind is pushing me around this evening after racquetball club practice. Once again, me and my friend are starving, and once again I am dragged over to the street food cart near the intersection in front of Yonsei University. Tonight is the night me to try soondae!

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Soondae is sometimes sold at the Tteokbokki carts, but there are also restaurants devoted to this food. It is often accompanied by lung and a salt/spice mixture seen above. In Korea many restaurants specialize in specific foods instead of serving a little bit of everything like an Applebee’s or Perkins would do in the U.S.

Egg Bread– egg baked inside a cornbread batter. It was Friday night, I was hungry, but didn’t want anything spicy or deep fried, and just wanted to get home to my bed without spending an hour at a restaurant eating. Then a magical sight appeared before my eyes at the next intersection.

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As someone who loved baking cookies, muffins, and brownies regularly, living in Korea for a year meant cravings for baked goods kept me company. I had been dreaming of corn bread for a while, and then got my fix on these amazing little egg bread ovals.

Hodduk– brown sugar and peanut filled pancake shaped pastries. I have a sweet tooth. It loves Hodduk. Basically you take a ball of dough, stuff a mixture of brown sugar and peanuts in the center, use a tool to flatten it on the griddle, and after a few flips there is a hot delicious pancake ready to be devoured.

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Gold Fish Pastries– red bean filled pastries. First of all, red bean is a thing you need to know about in Asia. It’s sweet and is used in desserts and is delicious. Don’t hate on red bean.

These gold fish pastries are made what I could consider a fish shaped waffle maker. They come out hot and are delightful on the fall and winter days they are sold.

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There you have it! Emilie’s top must-try Korean street foods. There are many other great street foods too—some are out year-round and others are seasonal; squid, chicken in a cup, waffles, and sweet potatoes are common. If I missed your favorite, please leave us a comment with what you love about your favorite street food.

A Returnee’s Guide to Surviving Reverse Culture Shock

Being on my own for so long made me forget what it was like to be surrounded by my loved ones all the time. When I finally did come back home to my loved ones, it seemed so different. It is not because I was sad that I was home, but rather I wanted to be left alone because that was how I lived and grew as a person for the last 4 months in a country unlike the United States in almost every way. Reverse culture shock is real, and for me, it was hard to handle on my own.

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I studied abroad in Beijing, China at Peking University for four months in the Fall of 2014. It was the best and the most challenging experience of my life, but it was more than worth it in every aspect. The culture, the language, and the food were like nothing we experience here in America; its like China was a whole new world just waiting to be discovered.

After being home for 2 months now, I have found some things to help the transition back to life both in America but also here at the University of Denver.

Take Time to Reflect:

It already seems as though my time abroad was a dream, if it were not for the reminder of all the great pictures that I took. Spend some time reflecting on your own about your experience, especially considering what you learned from it. Take this time to relive the memories, go through all your pictures, and contemplate how you felt about the overall experience. This helped me better understand what differences I appreciated about China, and the specific parts of my journey that really mattered to me; maybe it will help you in even more ways!

Find Your 2 Minute Short Story:

You will be asked by almost everyone (family, friends, Facebook followers, random neighbors, old co-workers, distant relatives, even dogs if they could talk) how your time abroad was and what your favorite memories were. I had to answer this question so many times it started to just become routine. Many times, the questions were just in passing so I picked a couple cool experiences and a few difficult ones to tell people about that really summed up my trip. Finding your study abroad short story will save you time, and brain power; it allows you to tell your story on your own terms, so enjoy!

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Stay Connected with Your Friends from Abroad:

It is easy to fall out of contact with people, especially when you live in different states, and even different countries. Making the effort to chat and catch up with friends from abroad is very rewarding. Sometimes I just needed to chat with Lily because she was a part of the story about getting lost in the mountains in Southern China and finding our, or understand the hardship of being abroad as well as coming back home. They can be the greatest resource for you, as well as the best life-long friend. Getting back in touch with your friends from home and DU is equally important! Be sure to surround yourself with people who love you, care about you, and understand you

Find a New Routine to Help You readjust:

Sometimes familiar can be helpful when trying to adjust back to life at DU. Having a familiar routine that fits your desires and needs makes things seem a bit more normal. This can be going back to activities you did before you went abroad as well as joining new groups based off your experience abroad. Coming back onto campus, I continuing my work with the debate team for a sense of familiarity while also joining a sustainability group on campus to advocate for better environmental efforts on campus; I never want the city to be as polluted as Beijing was.

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Tread Water, Don’t Dive into the Deep End:

Instead of jumping in and joining a bunch of clubs, taking a full course load, and finding a job; try to ease your transition back to life in the U.S. by making a little bit easier schedule. Take three class for winter quarter, be a member of a club rather than the leader of it, or work less hours at a part time job. The transition back is not easy, so make some time for yourself and enjoy being back!

-Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

 

Combating the Wanderlust

I have been back from abroad for 6 and a half months and I’m itchy. Rather, I’m not itchy, but itching: itching for an adventure. I had the incredible privilege to visit 8 countries while I was abroad: Spain, England, Ireland, Croatia, Belgium, Germany, Morocco, and Norway. I spent a weekend exploring the nooks and crannies of the Medina in Marrakech. I stayed in the home of a Catalonian named Sergio, who graciously opened the door for me at 6:30am when I had forgotten my keys. I stayed in the Roman emperor’s palace in Split, Croatia where I casually jumped off cliffs in my spare time.

Coming home, however, was just as exciting. I had missed my friends, and readjusting to the life of a college upperclassman in the U.S. was it’s own adventure. I was living off campus for the first time in my own house, began to explore Denver, and had plenty of schoolwork to keep me occupied. My lust for adventure and travel lay dormant.

But when it came back, oh did it come back with a vengeance. This summer, I’ve had the pleasure to continue working at DU’s Study Abroad office. Most recently, I have been updating our database on all 176 programs we offer and mapping the location of each one. This, however, comes at the price of wanderlust. As I’ve been perusing websites, reading syllabi, and looking at program cities on Google Maps, it seems every other thought is: how much would a plane ticket to (blank) cost?

Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona
Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

So, for all you fellow returnees out there, my best advice for you is to make a bucket list of activities to quench your thirst for adventure. Here are a couple suggestions that I’ve taken to heart:

  1. Go outside! Colorado has 53 peaks over 14,000 feet (4.3km) in the air and fantastic camping for all levels of outdoorsmen/women. Take advantage of them and explore.
  2. Obtain a skill. This can range from learning how to cook to getting scuba certified or obtaining your motorcycle license. It’ll open doors in the future.
  3. Go on a road trip. A lot of times we forget just how incredible the United States is compared to the excitement from abroad. Assemble a crew and drive somewhere you’ve never been.
  4. Foodies of the world, unite! Denver has a plethora of awesome international restaurants, with delicious Indian, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and Japanese options that are relatively inexpensive. Try food from around the world.
  5. WATCH THE WORLD CUP. The world is competing in the World’s Game until July 13th. Cheer on your native or adoptive country in homage to your time abroad.
  6. Read a book. They say the greatest part of reading is that you can travel 1000 miles without taking a single step. For those of us who enjoy extracurricular reading, but never seem to have the time to do it, carve a chunk out of your Netflix time to read.

In the end it may not be the same as abroad, but at least it will keep you occupied. Best of luck on your next adventure!

-Max Spiro, Peer Advisor

Staying Connected Abroad

Taking a smart phone overseas and using local Wi-Fi on campus or in coffee shops can often be the most effective way of keeping in touch with friends and family back home. Make sure to keep your phone on airplane mode to avoid any additional charges from overseas use.

Here are some apps to help ease communication:

  • Skype enables you to video call or instant message from computer to computer or from your smart phone for free. You can also use Skype to make reduced rate phone calls to a phone back in the U.S.
  • Viber allows you to call mobile to mobile for free, as long as each phone has internet access, either through Wi-Fi or 3G. You can also send free international text messages. The app integrates your address book, showing you which of your contacts already has Viber.
  • WhatsApp – An instant messaging app that is free for the first year of use and 99 cents per year after. It allows you to text message people anywhere in the world for free, and allows you to share photos rapidly. WhatsApp uses the phone numbers in your address book to show friends and family with WhatsApp automatically. It also has a neat group chat feature too.
  • iMessage – the default texting on iPhones works through Wi-Fi just like other apps. Text your contacts in the same way as you do back in the U.S. As with iMessage, Facetime will also enable you to video chat internationally as long as you have Wi-Fi access. However, be forewarned that iPhones are not as popular overseas as they are here in the U.S. Make sure you download a separate app!
  • Touchnote – Allows you to create postcards on your phone, combining a photo and text, before printing it and sending it to any address in the world for $1.99 per postcard.

Finally, if you’re in a Wi-Fi spot and looking for other places for using Wi-Fi, the app Free Wi-Fi Finder works around the world to keep you connected for free. It maps free Wi-Fi access close to you.

-Callum Forster, Peer Advisor

I Thought I Wasn’t Prejudiced

After living and working in another country I felt I had learned about a different culture. Especially after being abroad for the entirety of my junior year, I thought I identified with certain parts of the Chinese culture. Obviously, I am not Chinese and am by no means an expert on Chinese culture. Still, I had studied the language pretty intensively, had lived with a host family, traveled on my own and consumed copious amounts of Chinese food. Only after two months of being back did I begin to realize how being exposed and immersed in Chinese culture affected me.

Apart from thinking silverware was heavy and clunky compared to chopsticks, I also subconsciously thought I could identify various kinds of Asian ethnicities (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.). Let me explain.

You know how animals seem to have a sixth sense and can detect when there is danger? It may sound strange, but I swear there are people who have a sixth sense and can tell the difference between different nationalities (much like people here pick up on what regional area a person is from based on his/her characteristics). While in China I interacted with people from Japan, Singapore, and other southeastern Asian countries. After awhile I began to subconsciously identify the people I interacted with as belonging to certain nationalities. The funny thing was I had no idea about this until two months after I returned to the United States.

 

One day, while waiting for an appointment, my friend was looking up different doctors on her phone. She handed me her phone and asked me if the doctor she was looking at was possibly Chinese. I looked at the person and at the name, and it was definitely not a Chinese name. I shook my head, saying I did not think he was Chinese. Still, I continued looking at the doctor’s photo, my eyes going back between the name and the face. And then it clicked.

“He’s probably Vietnamese.” I told my friend. “He looks just like my friend so-and-so from Vietnam.”

“Oh, I was judging based on the name.” My friend responded, quickly taking her phone back. A few minutes later she said, “I looked up the name and it’s Vietnamese.”

Once we were back in her car, she told me the receptionist had given me a harsh look when I brazenly said the doctor looked Vietnamese. I was completely taken aback—I had just spent nine months living in a country where it was almost second nature to classify people based on their appearance. After hearing about the reaction my comment had gotten, I was immediately self-conscious. On one hand, I could see people of certain ethnic identities not appreciating me judging others based on looks. On the other hand, it was normal to me because I had just come from a country where that was normal—people would call me Russian or ask where in Germany I was from. Some people told me I was obviously American. I learned to roll with it. Once back in the States, however, I felt obligated to consciously realign my thinking. It was weird at first, but I have gradually shifted back to certain attitudes and behaviors that are more accepted in the United States.

When I think about this experience, it is almost embarrassing to think that people thought I was prejudiced. I considered myself operating as I had been trained to do abroad, in a different country and in a different culture. It became natural to begin to identify the people I saw with certain Asian countries. The interaction at the doctor’s office made me immediately conscious of how habits developed in other countries may not be very appropriate when I am in the US. Hopefully this awareness transfers to further travels and interactions with various people.

 

-Michelle Yeager, Peer Adviser.

Tae Kwon Do and Study Abroad

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Hi study abroad friends, below are a few stories from my first study abroad experience in South Korea at Yonsei University in 2009 that I used in some scholarship essays. Enjoy!

“So what do you think?” Master Jang asks. I pause unsure of how to respond, “It’s not what I expected.” Then Master Jang gave me the best advice I had yet to receive since beginning my study abroad program in South Korea, “Keep an open mind.” Master Jang, the first seventh-degree black belt in Taekwondo I had ever met, was leading the International Yonsei Tae Kwon Do Club’s practice. After watching them for two hours shivering on a wooden bench in the gym, it was clear this was not what I had envisioned.

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That was Monday March 2, 2009—the first day of school; it is now one month into spring semester at Yonsei University where I am an exchange student. A year and a half ago I was a freshman eating cafeteria food with international students Yumi, Mi Seon, and Ning. Now I am the exchange student eating cafeteria food with other Korean and international students. Yumi, from Seoul, gave me a wonderful reception upon arrival to South Korea.

“Emilie!!” Someone is screaming my name, but I can’t see who it is in the crowd of people. “Ahhh!” another person screams. I stop in my sleepless stupor to locate where all the commotion is coming from. Finally Yumi and Mi Seon break through the crowd running in high heels (as much as heels would allow them) to greet me. Considering the two half-crying girls surrounding me in the airport an observer might think I was a long awaited traveler who had finally come home. But that was my first day in a foreign country, and the beginning of two semesters of studying abroad at Yonsei University.

Yumi introduced me to Yonsei University during my freshman year. I was having difficulties finding a suitable place to study abroad. None of the programs matched my requirements: an East Asian country—preferably South Korea, a university that offered classes taught in English, and a wide range of classes to ensure two semesters of productive study that would allow me to graduate on time.

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Yonsei was the perfect fit: it was in South Korea, it had numerous classes taught in English ranging from engineering to economics, it had a home-stay program, and the Korean Language Institute was top ranked in the world. I chose Yonsei, and by doing so I was creating my first alma mater. I had to transfer to a Yonsei partner-school in order to be eligible to study abroad there. The extra work it took to go to South Korea instead of a well-traveled destination has proven to be completely worthwhile. One example is a demonstration of the Korean martial art Tae Kwon Do I participated in.

Don’t flinch. I am sitting on the shoulders of a man I met an hour ago. There is a board in my hands, my eyes are squeezed shut, and a seventh-degree black belt standing below the board I’m holding—preparing to smash it to pieces. Smack—the board breaks right before my (closed) eyes. Studying abroad forces students into many interesting and challenging situations that give us a chance to grow, learn, and build our character. This year I know I will go through many unforeseen challenges—like when I unexpectedly found myself a part of demonstrating how to break Tae Kwon Do precision boards for a large visiting class of Japanese high school students.

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3 Things I Learned My First Week Abroad

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A Croatian Sunset, no Instagram needed

The first few days in a new place are really exciting. No matter how blandly something is painted or regular to the locals, for you, it seems everything you see is new and shiny. These feelings get magnified when abroad. Being immersed in culture for the first time, and for me on an entirely different continent, EVERYTHING WAS SO COOL. Here are a few of the lessons I learned in those first few days I was abroad.

1. You’re Not As Fluent As You Think You Are

I’ve been speaking Spanish since I was 5 years old, a total of 15 years. I attended bilingual Elementary and Middle Schools, finished AP Spanish in High School, spent a summer living in rural Nicaragua, and one of my majors is Spanish; needless to say, I thought I was super prepared to go abroad and speak entirely in Spanish.

Wrong. WRONG.

Melodrama aside, it was the little things that fell through the cracks. For example, what do you call shower gel in Spanish? I spent roughly 15 minutes in the soap and shower section of a Carrefour grocery store in Spain desperately trying to figure out if Crema de ducha, which literally translates to “shower cream”, was indeed shower gel and not a lotion you applied post-shower.

Crema de ducha is indeed shower gel, I luckily discovered, however hovering stupidly in the aisle for WAY too long taught me that no question is ever too silly, and having a sense of humor and embracing your idiosyncrasies is key to not getting too overwhelmed.

2. Change Matters

How many of you out there carry around spare change? What’s that? None of you do because it’s totally not worth it and is a waste of valuable pocket space? Fancy that, I thought the same thing!

Here in the States, I leave anything less than a dollar at home. Change is reserved for saving in a piggy bank, then exchanging for an Amazon Gift Card when you think you have enough. In the UK and the Eurozone, however, I found this to be far from the norm. Most restaurants and local shops deal exclusively in cash, and coins are worth up to 2 Euros or Pounds. Be prepared to have some heavy pants and purses, ladies and gentlemen.

What I was left with was, ironically, the small changes to your life always seem to be the most impactful.

3. Umbrellas are a real thing

Growing up and going to school in Colorado has many advantages: we are the fittest and most active State, host the smartest city in the U.S. (Boulder), and get 300 days of sun a year. There are mountains to climb, fields to frolic in, and most importantly NO RAIN. We vacillate between snow and sunshine, and as the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait 5 minutes.

Then I discovered how the real world worked.

An umbrella’s only role used to be taking up valuable space in the closet. Abroad, umbrellas are not the relics from when you lived “back on the East Coast” and it “rained” frequently. This became blatantly apparent when I was walking around Salamanca one afternoon with some friends and it started to drizzle. Like any good Coloradan, I said, “this will blow over.”

It didn’t.

One torrential downpour later, miserable and soaked from the waist down, thankfully I had the foresight to bring my raincoat along, I returned home, only to leave as soon as the rain subsided to buy myself a fancy new umbrella.

Well I guess these things are useful. Neat.

The moral of the story here is to be prepared for the small things in your life to change: you never noticed how much time you had at a supermarket checkout line in the States until you have a gruff German woman frustratingly urging you to hurry up packing your produce into your backpack.

Get ready for the time of your life.

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Max Spiro

Peer Advisor, Office of Internationalization

Ignorance and Knowledge

You know how it is preached in the Study Abroad 101s to not be ignorant of your home country’s politics, current events, and whatnot? During my fall semester abroad, I was the person whose knowledge about U.S. current events was really not that extensive. You may be thinking what an ignorant, lazy study abroad student. Wrong! Culturally immersed study abroad student.

You see, my first semester abroad was intensive Chinese language immersion. The way I saw it, stopping my intake of everything U.S.-related would not do much harm (with the exception of the Presidential Debate). Granted, I stayed in contact with people back home, but other than whatever was on my Facebook news feed when I uploaded photos, not a lot of American news reached my ears. 

Why? I listened to Chinese music. I tried to read (with much difficulty) Chinese news sources. I listened to Chinese podcasts and spent 11 hours of my day in classrooms studying the language. I lived with a host family that spoke no English and had a Chinese news source as my browser homepage.

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First semester my goal was to be immersed in the language. To me, the tradeoff of knowing less about U.S. happenings was worth the gains I made in my Chinese language and cultural knowledge. My second semester abroad I took a Chinese Media Studies class, during which I read an equal amount of Chinese and American news sources to compare the reporting styles and contents of the articles. 

Every student in my program was immersed on different levels. One student only hung out with Chinese students and watched Chinese dramas with them. Another student always spoke English after class, breaking the language pledge all students had signed at the start of the semester. Each student had his or her own level of cultural immersion. Like I said earlier, my knowledge on American art or business was not as vast as when I was in the U.S., but on the up side I was up to date on Chinese events and surrounding myself with Chinese helped me achieve a level of speaking confidence I was proud of.

Just as students can be not culturally immersed when they go abroad, it is entirely possible for students to be completely culturally immersed. Hopefully you are more immersed than not; learning about cultural norms and the vernacular of your host country is one of the best ways to become familiar with the history and pop culture of where you are studying. Of course, there will always be different levels of immersion; how much you engage is up to you. Just don’t be afraid to give up some things you would normally rely on in the States. Who knows, you may even bring some cooler traditions back home with you.

– Michelle Yeager, DUSA Peer Advisor

Chelsea’s blog: Thailand

“About two weeks ago, I walked down the stairs to get my breakfast and a cup of instant coffee. My routine every morning. The thing that was different that morning was the set of twelve empty waterbottles, each of which contained a giant rhino beetle. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were very much alive. Nervously I asked my dad, “Kin a-ria?” Which roughly translates to “Are we going to eat that?” He laughed…. which really didn’t answer my question.”

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Read more about ISDSI Thailand from Chelsea:

 http://stillanoptimist.wordpress.com

 

Language learning and Mongolian – a few thoughts

Wednesday we took our Mongolian language final. I may still have the vocabulary of a very small child, but at least I can tell you I rode a horse and milked a cow in four different tenses. Now that the language class has come to an end, I thought I’d share a few pearls of wisdom/random facts I’ve picked up over the last couple of months.

Since there are like three million people in Mongolia, and Mongolian isn’t spoken in any other country, I’m guessing most of you don’t know anything about the language. Which is good news for me, since it means that almost anything I write here will be at least mildly informative.

1. It really bothers me that I’m two months into my time here in Mongolia and I still don’t know how to say “please.”

Actually, scratch that, it’s not that I don’t know how to say “please,” it’s just that there’s no stand-alone word for it. There are more polite ways to say things, and less polite ways to say things. And unfortunately, the less polite, informal way of saying or asking something is usually less complicated than the polite, formal way of saying something. So I only ever remember the informal bits that make me come off a bit clipped and rushed.

2. In Mongolian, everything has a suffix.

Mongolian grammar usually involves slapping a suffix on a word to convey meaning. Examples – possession, as well as the words with, have, by, for, and please, are all expressed in Mongolian by putting a suffix on the end of the word.

3. When in the countryside, you can convey a surprising amount of information just by using vocabulary for various livestock species.

Example 1 – Someone says “sheep” and points to the southeast (“hun” is how you pronounce it in Mongolian). Clearly, this is an indication that your host dad has gone off to herd the sheep. He probably took the motorcycle and will be back shortly, say maybe 15 or 20 minutes.

Example 2 – Your host dad points at you, points at the clock, and then says “horse” (pronounced “mor” in Mongolian). Obviously, it is time to leave for language class. You will be taking the horse. Don’t be late.

Let's herd some animals, ya'll.
Let’s herd some animals, ya’ll.

4. It really is worth trying to learn the language.

A couple of anecdotes:

Maybe about a month ago, a couple of my friends and I were walking near downtown UB, and we ran into an elderly couple. They were here on a mission for a couple of years, teaching English, and they didn’t speak a word of Mongolian. Towards the beginning of their trip, someone had told them that they shouldn’t try to learn Mongolian. They were there to teach English. Learning Mongolian wouldn’t be helping the students at all, in fact it might even be doing them a “disservice.” They took that person’s advice, and didn’t attempt to pick up any Mongolian, because, why bother?

Similarly, I was talking with my UB host mom recently (she’s speaks wonderful English) and she was telling me that on a recent business trip, she had been so surprised to meet an American who spoke seemingly perfect Korean. Why was she surprised, you wonder? Because, despite working with expats for several years at an NGO in Ulaanbaatar, as well as interning in New York for several months, my host mom has never met an American that speaks a second language, besides English. And you know what? She still hasn’t. Because the guy she met, the one who spoke Korean, wasn’t even American.

I’m not trying to make any sweeping generalizations here, but I think it’s safe to say that most Americans don’t prioritize learning a second language in the scope of their education.  Which is really, really unfortunate in my opinion. And also unfortunately, I am a member of that category. Sure, I’ve taken Spanish classes on and off for five years or so, but I still have little more than basic proficiency.The process of learning a second language is so rewarding – just think how many more people you can get to know and perspectives you can be privy to.

You’ve heard of a bucket list, right? Well, I’ve had “gain fluency in a second language” on mine for about as long as I’ve had a list. And it’s time to put my words into action. One thing I’m taking from this trip is inspiration to redouble my efforts to gain fluency in a second language.

Because I think the importance of it cannot be understated. And because I’m all about walking the walk, not just talking the talk!

One year from now, I’d like to be able to look back on this blog post and be proud of the progress I’ve made becoming fluent in a second language.

What are your thoughts on the importance of learning a foreign language?

P.S. Here’s a picture of a ger, because this post doesn’t have enough pictures….

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Also, check it out! Solar power! A lot of gers in the countryside have these little solar panels they use to power a light, the TV, etc. Pretty nifty, huh?

– Heather Cook, DUSA blogger