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By heatherlgilbert

Last weekend I had the opportunity to join a group, known as the Peace Makers, on a trip to the DMZ. This volunteer group is a coalition of international students who dedicate time to peace discussion and local service activism. It was fascinating to hear the perspectives of students from around the world: Sweeden, Japan, France, Australia and more.

The experience of looking over at North Korea was surreal. So close to South Korea and yet so different. The juxtaposition of the flourishing South and the impoverished North is shocking. This border is not just the manifestation of separate governments, it also remains a reminder of the division of family and friends.

As the semester comes to an end, I am thankful for everything that I have seen and done and the wonderfully diverse people that I have met.  I will conclude my blog with this last post a reminder that there is so much that can be changed in the world and that everyone can make a difference. Thank you.

By heatherlgilbert

 I am back in South Korea where there is a growing effort to aid North Korean refugees. Refugees have been escaping North Korea since the height of North Korea’s famine in the 1990s. In 2013, US State Department estimated that 30,000 to 50,000 North Koreans have crossed the North Korean border to China, while other non-governmental organizations estimate the number is closer to 300,000. Escaping the North, however, is only one step in their process to freedom. Once the refugees have successfully crossed the border they must adopt to their new and vastly different environments. Working with these courageous survivors is an unforgettable opportunity.

In South Korea, there are several efforts to help North Korean refugees. One of these efforts includes the development of a school for North Korean child refugees. Appropriately named, Mulmangcho, or forget me not in Korean, this school takes in children to teach and care for during their difficult transition to life in South Korea.  Education is particularly important for these kids who lag behind their South Korean counterparts in their studies.

Most of the children, living and studying at the school, are orphans. The lucky ones have one parent but rarely both. Nevertheless, as the name of the school indicates, the children are not forgotten and on every Saturday, volunteers come to teach English.

By heatherlgilbert

The Angel group at Yonsei University is a community service club that helps around Seoul. It has been a great honor getting to meet other like minded individuals who make a difference in the community.

This month, the Angel group cleaned local parks by picking up trash to preserve the environment. Although pickup trash is not the most exciting task, it must be done. Not only does cleaning areas create more community beauty, but it also prevents accidental deaths of animals. Preserving the environment as a very important task that I am happy to be a part of.

The Angel group will continue the environmental service throughout the spring and show great commitment to the venerable cause. I am very grateful to have met so many wonderful people on the trip and I look forward to seeing them again.

By lizzhart

The program is complete. The health intervention has been implemented. We decided on an informative flyer about the importance if food separation, free compostable bags, and a report of our research findings to the municipality office. The health volunteers  at the village expressed a need to encourage villagers to separate food waste which would reduce waste overflowing in the trash bins, reduce insects and animals scavenging in the bins, an help the environment by putting that waste toward use as feed and farm fertilizer. The municipal office requested we share our findings with them because they rarely receive feedback from villagers who are often wary of government workers. We hope sharing our research will improve communication between the municipality and the village and help with future measures to address waste management.

I am happy with my time spent in the community and am happy that the village health volunteers seemed satisfied with our project despite its minor impact. I am disappointed overall in how limited we were with only one intervention day. A semester leading up to a community project was met with an anticlimactic ending. The Thailand CIEE program has a lot o room for growth.

Ultimately I survived the semester, despite the frustrations, limitations, and manipulation a of a program that doesn't give its students the freedom to create an experience independent of the program. I met great people, made a lot of personal growth, and have planned a kickass post program travel plan. If I could go back I would not have chosen this program and I would not advise anyone to do this program, but if I could have the perfect experience it would still be in this country with these people.

CIEE SPRING 2014"Break my spirit not my team"

By zamorse

Well, this is it. My last blog post. I can't believe the semester is almost over, but it is. I'm a weird space right now---I still have over a week left of the semester, 2 papers and 2 exams standing in my way of academic freedom, but I've already begun reflecting on my semester. I said my first goodbye already to a friend who had to go home for medical reasons, I just came back from my last day trip with the international school (we went to the Lebanese border, a Druze village for lunch, the Syrian border in the Golan Heights, and wine tasting).
This is going to be a week of lasts. Last trip to the shouk (market), last weekend in the holy land, etc, and as more people start to leave, it feels even more real.
January seems like only yesterday--when I was scared and nervous as to what this semester would have in store for me. I had quite the semester and quite the adventure in the fall in Korea, and I was worried this semester would be a let down compared to the adventure I had in Seoul. I didn't speak any Korean, knew nothing of the culture, and knew nobody there, but ended up having an amazing semester.
Israel was the opposite. I speak Hebrew, I have family and friends here, and I had been here three times previously. I was worried it wouldn't be an adventure---it would just feel like school.
That's definitely not what happened.
Studying in Haifa was a great decision. I got out of the mercaz (center) of the country and went to a working city. I got to explore the culture in Israel like I had never seen it before, met some great friends along the way, and had an amazing semester in the process.
Now it's back to DC and off to my next adventure---senior year.

By Dominique Bonessi

As my trip is winding down I find myself distinguishing between the things I will miss and the things I could live without.  But instead of focusing on the things I dislike I will concentrate on things that I can’t get enough of here in my country.

  1. The Food: Shwerma, Hummus, Beans, Mansef…..and the list goes on.  I will not be able to go back to the states and eat hummus from the container; rather I will go back and try to create my own hummus—probably cheaper too.  My host mom has also taught me so much about Jordanian cooking from stuffed olive leaves, to summer watermelon and cheese, and almond cake.
  2. Desert Visits: I recently just got back from Wadi Mujib and the Dead Sea—my favorite trip so far—and I realized how beautiful the desert of Jordan is with various places to hike, swim, bike, and explore.  Each wadi with its own unique beauty, colors, and secrets.  This weekend trips have been great for rest and relaxation especially between busy weeks with studying and homework.
  3. Cafés: I know there are great café’s in DC, but as it is in a city they tend to be busy all the time with no space to spread out and get work done.  The café’s in Amman have been my sanctuary for work and--of course—my coffee fix.  Each café has comfy music, couches, and atmosphere to get work done without it being stressful and time consuming.  In DC, I don’t get the same atmosphere for studying with hundreds of people around and students sweating over their books to cram for the next exam.
  4. MBC on TV: Middle East Broadcasting has been a great source for me to simply turn on the TV and listen to Arabic.  In the states I have to dig through the internet to listen to Arabic channels and it is not as enjoyable as sitting in front of the TV with my host mom as we talk about our days and the celebrities on TV.  I especially have come to enjoy the Turkish soap operas and I can understand the storyline better now.
  5. Friends: I have had the opportunity and the honor to meet some of the most amazing Jordanians here and my time here would not have been as enjoyable if it wasn’t for them.  I am truly grateful for their friendship and the time I have spent with them, and I hope they come and visit me in the states and/or I have time to go back to Jordan to see them.

By juliaraewagner

It has been a little maddening to operate in a city where I do not speak the language. I've been able to get along fine with English and the Spanish that I know, but I would like to attest to the fact that Portuguese is not simply "Spanish with a Brazilian accent" as the Argentines often say.  It is always a bit sad to hear someone address you and not have the slightest idea of how to respond.

My friends have been great at teaching me some survival Portuguese. I can greet people and ask for general directions. I am okay at ordering simple things in restaurants, but its still interesting when the waiters start asking for difficult orders. At any rate, its a work in progress, as learning a language always is.

I've been interested to learn some new words in Brazilian Portuguese because its such a rich language with so many influences. My favorite word thus far has been saudades which has no translation into English, but roughly means the pleasant nostalgia one feels for past experiences or people. It can even refer to such things that have not yet occurred. My friends introduced the word to me when we were saying our goodbyes at the close of fall semester, but also used it to describe their excitement at the prsopect of me visiting in the next few months. Either way, its that warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach that makes you want to jump around in excitment.

I think saudades is a perfect way of encapsulating how I feel about this past year abroad. I've had so many wonderful experiences and met so many special people, that thinking about any of them will always incite the warm, longing feeling of saudades. I will always have a sense of nostalgia for this year. One of the most important things I've learned, however, is that these experiences and lessons do not have to simply remain in the past as a memory. I can incorporate them into my daily life and allow them to live into the present and future. Just like saudades, the good feelings do not need to stop in the past, but can continue into the future.

As I visit my friends and new places around the world, I look forward to carrying these memories with me and making new memories in the future. Cheers to travel!

By pw916

“Do you have a cigarette?” –“No,” I respond.

“Where are you from?” –“Uh oh,” I think.

In the few minutes following, I handed both my cell phone and about fifty dollars over to this man who had, in theory, just wanted a cigarette. I was inconspicuously walking home on a Sunday evening with just a carton of cashew juice in my hands, when a block and a half away from my apartment someone was walking behind my just a little too close for comfort. My mistake was in turning my head to see and initiating eye contact the man who was so close behind me. After indicating he had a weapon tucked in his waistband and me mistaking the gesture to mean that he was hungry, I offered him my carton of juice. Either feeling belittled or mocked (or both), he then forcefully blocked me from walking any further and demanded what I had in my pockets. ...continue reading " A Quick, Fateful Question"

By heatherlgilbert

The most valuable part of my experience in Korea is my wonderful home stay family. They have taught me so much and have given me an insider look at the everyday life of a typical korean family. Last weekend again, I was able to experience the local life by volunteering with my homestay mother at their church.

The third week of every month, the church holds a community service event for the elderly in the area to gather and eat together. The church provides all the food and the venue. Volunteers are responsible for preparing and serving the food and clean up.

Working side by side with other volunteers and talking to the elderly allowed me to understand new dimensions and problems facing Korean society. With the continual modernization and growth of Seoul, the government has supported the construction of many apartment complexes. While this supplies a greater number of living areas, it also displaces many of the elderly who lived in old houses.

Listening to locals and understanding their needs gives me a greater appreciation for my circumstances.

By catrionaschwartz

The Last Supper Part II: My Last Week in Rome

I am now at my final week in Rome. After approximately four months in the Eternal City I barely feel I know it at all. There are bits and pieces—routes I’ve carved out in my mind; the course of the 870 bus up Gianicolo Hill, a thread of direction in the tangled streets of the Centro Storico, between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, the route between restless crowds in Trastevere after nightfall—but Rome was so much bigger than I expected.

There have been other places I’ve touched; Monti with its ivy curtain on the corner of Via Panisperna, Pigneto with its little bungalows and street art and Testaccio, just slightly rough around the edges. It’s not the same as really living somewhere, when you study abroad. It’s a taste of it but four months is just drop in the ocean.

I think I’ve said this before but I’m reminded of the thought now that I’m in my final days here: I could live in Rome a lifetime and never know it fully. To think that four months would suffice—it’s nowhere near enough time. Still I was inspired reading Julia’s blog post about her host brother asking her what she actually liked about Buenos Aires. It made me think about what I really know about Rome, beyond its founding myth and the boundary lines of certain neighborhoods and the price of a ticket to the Vatican Museum.

So I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve come to know about Rome. Some of them are things I’ve loved, and some of them are things I’m ready to be done with, but all of them are tiny facets of my time here. They’re part of this experience here which has been something that I can’t assign any sort of value to, positive or negative, and that can only be remembered in moments rather than with any sort of overarching sentiment or conclusion.

So here it is, Rome, and what I’ve come to know of it:

The confetti that littered the ground around the time of Carnevale.

The aspens and the palm trees and the honeysuckle and purple flowers which came with spring.

The local bars without any of the fuss of cafes back home but with equally good and exponentially cheaper fare. I can’t believe the days of 1 euro cappuccinos are soon to be behind me!

The painful cobblestones. They’re beautiful and I have to believe they’ve made me a stronger person. Or at least my feet.

The old water fountains, at first a mystery to me, and which I’ve finally mastered. Knowing how to use one correctly is a quick and easy way to feel like less of a tourist.

The pain of a 2 euro charge for still water at almost every restaurant in Rome.

The nuns and the priests throughout the city.

Even better: the monks and the friars. Where else in the world would you see Franciscan friars (with their long brown robes and the white rope around their waists) walking down the street as you go to catch the bus home?

The piazzas at night filled with people and bottles of wine, somehow lively and quiet at the same time.

The comparative din around places such as Bar San Calisto where American students, Italian high-schoolers, and locals anywhere from twenty-two to sixty-two will spend an evening drinking and talking to strangers.

Shops and restaurants with no names at all.

The opulent antique stores along Via dei Coronari.

The way the city is filled to the brim for Catholic holidays.

The prevalence of take away pizzerias and gelaterias.

The absence of any other kind of take away.

The utter dearth of food trucks.

The fact that the only people eating in a restaurant before 8:30 are Americans.

A satisfying aperitvo where you can get a whole meal and a drink for under 12 euros if you know the right places to go.

How medicines are all sold at old school pharmacies where almost everything is behind the counter.

The fact that many people dry their clothes on lines and without a dryer.

The way people wear down coats even when it is sixty degrees out because it is still March.

The way you stand out as an American when you wear temperature appropriate, season-inappropriate clothes, or too many bright colors.

The diminutive but welcoming religious minority communities.

The incongruous Egyptian obelisks throughout the city (and the one pyramid).

The Pantheon, a temple which became a church, and then inspired Baroque architects to construct churches that looked like temples.

How easy it is to take a plane to somewhere with a completely different language and culture.

How easy it is to take a train to a quiet medieval fortress town and look out at the iconic Italian countryside.

Having the chance to visit the Forum before the hordes of tourists arrive, when it can feel just a bit more like a ghost town and not a tourist attraction.

The sense of achievement after any successful interaction conducted in Italian, no matter how minor.

The sense of accomplishment at having a list like this, and of being able to write more. Of having some way to account for an experience which was too unwieldy to put any sort of conclusion to.

The next entry I write will be after I’ve been home for a few days. I can’t imagine how I will be feeling then but I know no matter what I’m thankful that I’ve been able to have this experience.