“I wish I did less on my trip overseas.” I have heard plenty of people regret not doing enough on a trip, not seeing or experiencing enough, but never someone regretting having too many experiences. My friends and I have taken this to heart, and here is why: this past weekend we wandered around downtown Dublin, visited Dublin Castle, spent a day on a farm milking cows, herding sheep, baking soda bread, and learning new sports, attended a Gaelic football match, visited the Wicklow Mountains and a nearby ancient monastery south of Dublin, and spent the rest of our Sunday exploring Kilkenny Castle and the Smithwick’s Brewery in County Kilkenny. Needless to say, I got 13 hours of sleep Sunday night. The weekend with friends was unforgettable and I am sure I will touch on many of the experiences in future blog posts. The Gaelic football match, however, was particularly special. In a jam-packed weekend, this event stood out because it was there where I met one of my distant Irish relatives for the first time. My parents made me aware of a network of Irish relatives we had on my dad’s side that I knew little about. My Aunt Kathleen helped get me in touch with Joe McDonagh first through email and eventually through phone. To put it simply, Joe’s great-grandfather is my great-great-grandfather. If I remember correctly, he informed me 9 of 11 children in our family left Galway in the late 1800s due to poverty for America. I am a descendant on my father’s mother’s side of one that left, while he is a descendant of one that stayed. He offered me information about our family and Irish ancestors that I had never heard before. My friend from DCU who tagged along even remarked after our night out that he spotted a family resemblance! Earlier in the night, my friend Luke and I got back from our farm trip, washed the bog mud off, and headed for western Europe’s fourth largest stadium, Croke Park, in the north of Dublin. Joe and I agreed to meet for a Gaelic football match. Luke and I got to our seats, but not without a ridiculously long and frustrating time getting into the stadium, with it’s multitude of entrances and a ticket office blocks away from the stadium! What? The first noticeable difference in sporting events here in Ireland is that you cannot drink in the stadium, only in the concourse. We were very surprised by this rule coming from a huge drinking culture at American sporting events, and being in a country notoriously known for alcohol consumption. The second difference was obviously the sport being played. The Gaelic Games consist of hurling, which is basically an ancient, more primitive version of lacrosse, and Gaelic football, which is like a super-awesome handball+soccer+football extravaganza. With no pads. And almost as much fighting as hockey. These guys are amateurs (another big difference, as pro sports is not really a thing in such a small country), so they do it for the love of the game. You score one point for kicking through football-style uprights, and three points for getting it underneath them, much like soccer. This means consistent one-point scoring, but when a three-pointer is scored, everybody goes nuts (for Dublin of course). It was like a perfect formula for a spectator sport. We missed the hurling match, but Joe met us at our seats and took in the second half of Gaelic football with us. It was almost a surreal experience meeting a blood relative in a foreign country. He was a great guy, a family man with two kids. In typical Dublin fashion, we met one of his friends at a pub after the match. It was actually a really fun time, as two 21-year-old Americans shared stories with two 50-year-old Irishmen. We left with a promise to talk soon about coordinating a meeting with the rest of the relatives in Galway. Gaelic football was awesome, but meeting Joe was even better. My immediate family is passionate for good sports, and it’s great to know my distant relatives are no different.
The Danish word of the day is mister.
The definition of the word is to lose.
On Sunday the sun managed to struggle out from behind the clouds for longer than a 20 minute clip. My friends and I felt optimistic about the weather, so we left the house in search of the magical land of Christiania.
Christiania is a not-so-secret secret “alternative living community” nestled in the heart of Copenhagen. A relic from the early 70s, the town has been built up almost by hand by its inhabitants, who live free (almost) from the rules and laws that govern the rest of Denmark. Imagine, if you will, walking into a huge abandoned theme park that is full of trash, graffiti, and weird-looking structures that are partially covered in uncut grass and moss. Now picture huge, psychedelic murals wrapping around almost everything in sight. Now add the persistent scent of smoke and garbage that hasn’t been taking out. That’s Christiania, in a nutshell.
The walk we took was fascinating. We strolled down muddy sidewalks, viewing the homes of the inhabitants of the “free town.” Many were built up from scratch from scrap materials. Some were made from abandoned warehouses and buildings. We saw makeshift children’s playgrounds, organic food restaurants, and plenty of flowers growing everywhere. There was even a stable deep inside the neighborhood, filled with horses and one sweet looking donkey.
Just outside there was a bakery called Lagkagehuset (a chain popular in Denmark) so we popped in to get a quick dessert. I ordered a pastry with custard in the center. As we stood huddled around a table, munching, a family suddenly came in with a sick child. The child was coughing abnormally, and not wanting to get sick in a foreign country (even though Denmark’s healthcare system is excellent), we decided to eat the rest of our pastries on the go. It was a 20 minute walk back to our dorm.
Climbing up the steps to my room was when I realized – I had lost my wallet. Now, losing your wallet in a foreign country isn’t like losing it at home. It sucks either way, but losing your wallet abroad is like losing your lifeline. I immediately panicked. All of my ID cards, plus my debit card and some cash was in there. My first instinct was to contact my parents and ask them what to do. But… when you’re thousands of miles away from home, you have to figure things out on your own. You can’t rely on mom and dad to help you because they physically can’t. Luckily, my roommates are sweet girls and helped me figure out the phone number of the bakery we had visited (the last place the wallet had been seen.)
Luckily, and due in large part to the kindness and honesty of the Danes, my wallet was still at the bakery. I’ve never run a mile so quickly in all my life. As I approached the counter the women behind it laughed a bit and told me to be more careful next time. When they gave it over to me, not a single item had been touched or moved. Back home in D.C. I doubt I would have been as lucky. I might have gotten the wallet back, but the cash and card would likely have been lost.
So what I learned this week was this - keep your belongings close when you’re away from home. Remember that you have to rely on yourself (and your good friends) to tackle tough situations. This can seem like a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing. It’s a chance to test yourself, to grow a little in terms of maturity and learn how to handle situations more calmly. You need to be flexible and independent to travel abroad – and, even if you’re neither of those things (like me), you’ll learn quickly on the job.
…And one last word: thank you to whomever found my wallet at Lagkagehuset and turned it in without stealing from it. You’re a life saver!
One custom I wish the U.S. would adopt from Spain is its relationship with alcohol. The most surprising thing about traveling to one of the party capitals of the world was being taught how to drink responsibly. In Madrid, I have been introduced to a drinking culture in which young adults view alcohol in an entirely different manner than back at home.
My first drink in this city was only hours after I touched down in Spain, and here’s the real kicker: it was with my program director and advisors. Our first dinner as a group included a couple glasses of red wine, or “vino tinto” as they call it here. I guess because I’m not yet 21, the idea of having a drink with my superiors was a bit odd. But then, I realized that even back in D.C., having a drink with your professors at 21 would be considered slightly inappropriate, all due to the dark cloud surrounding young adults and drinking in the United States.
Back home, young adults aren’t trusted with alcohol. They are viewed as binge-drinkers and partygoers who just can’t handle their liquor. At the age of 18, they are trusted to go to war for their country, but not to enjoy a glass of beer. I find this completely ridiculous. I honestly believe that the negative stigma surrounding alcohol in the U.S. is exactly what pressures most kids to indulge in it as much as they can, whenever they can. In Spain, as I have quickly learned, things are completely different.
Since Spanish nightlife lasts well into the morning (it’s not rare to stay out until the metro reopens at 6am), people in Spain don’t feel the need to rush and “get drunk.” Clubs and bars don’t go into full swing until after 1am, anyway. What’s even more important is that alcohol is almost always accompanied with food. Drinks and tapas are a staple for a night out in Madrid (and probably why more people are able to handle their liquor). Long story short: In Madrid, drinking is just an excuse to spend time with your friends and family, and enjoy good food and music. It’s a social and casual event, not some marathon or competition. I think that young adults in the U.S. would be wise to take a hint from this Spanish way of life.
I have committed cultural faux pas after faux pas in a little less than two weeks here. There are probably plenty more that no one ever brought to my attention as well. Between assuming pedestrian right-of-way at intersections, misunderstanding of tipping etiquette, and too many misunderstandings of the Irish accent to count, I have basically accepted the role of the ultimate foreigner. My most glaring faux pas, and one that I continue to misunderstand, involves walking in malls, sidewalks, and just about anywhere with foot traffic.
I have slowly come to a conclusion that Irish people have no protocol when it comes to which side to walk on almost anywhere. I am speaking about things like stairs, mall hallways, school hallways, and sidewalks. In the U.S., there is a pretty clear understanding that we drive on the right side of the road and walk on the right side of the sidewalk. As an avid runner for years, this protocol is something I have always held near and dear. Seeing someone walking on the left or opening the left door in a set of double doors in the U.S. left me thinking they were either foreign or just plain rude.
When I arrived in Ireland, I was quick to realize that the right side was not the side to walk on. Obviously cars drive on the left here, so it makes sense. It has been a tough habit to break. More than once I have found myself walking in the city centre on the wrong side and veering through a crowd to make myself at least seem a little like a local. I have accidentally held doors for many when realizing I was going out the wrong one. I could not seem more like a foreigner even when wearing my trademark backwards hat, which I was told by my Irish roommates is not something Irish students do at all.
After getting the hang of walking on the left, I realized something. The locals seem to not have come to a full agreement on this matter. I feel the need to hold a large town meeting or referendum (the latter which the country seems to be very fond of) so we can all agree on what side to walk on. In my experiences so far, cars have agreed to stay to the left almost 100% of the time (at least I hope they will). But I have had a decent-sized minority in the city centre, on campus, and in the mall walk to the right. I have developed a pretty good eye for foreigners versus locals, and most appear to be locals. When I considered this notion, I realized even the doors and revolving doors were not set up in a uniform way to address which to exit from. This leads to awkward run-ins and general difficulty.
The most egregious of the run-ins occurred yesterday. I was walking and chatting with my friends on campus on the left side of a walk in the center of campus. A woman came forward going the way that my American friends and I were all used to. She headed directly towards me. Although she was on the right side, I did not think much of it and slid a little to my right to help her pass. At that instance, she moved to her left, leaving us facing one another. I slid left as she instantaneously matched my move. And again. Finally, we figured this pedestrian conundrum out somehow and went about our days. My friends said the painfully awkward exchange looked like we were about to give each other a hug.
Aside from this sidewalk confusion, my only other major complaint is still the lack of pretzels in the grocery stores. So based on these small problems, I am doing just fine. For my friends in America, cherish your continuity in sidewalk etiquette. And send pretzels.
This first week started out rough. The post-Juno snow storm that hit the northeast made getting to the airport a stressful task when an hour ride turned into a three hour one. Thankfully the woman at the check in desk had a heart and let me through quickly and with two overweight bags free of charge. Of course after sprinting through security my flight was delayed as soon as I arrived at my gate. The good news is that from that point on its been pretty smooth sailing.
The week has been filled with orientations about public transportation, living with hosts and traveling through Europe. While most of these sessions have been helpful, what I am most in need of is a crash course in German 101. I came into this whole abroad shebang knowing that language was going to be an huge challenge. I now believe I severely underestimated how different this place was going to be. Please don't misunderstand - I don't dislike or regret coming to Berlin, I merely mean to say I mentally prepared myself for something much different than the reality. Having studied Spanish since 7th grade I have no grasp on German. In hind sight I realize this was very obvious.
On a different note entirely, there are only 19 of us on the program which is great because the group is small enough for us all to get to know each other. However, it is a little strange with us all spread out through the city. I'm really thankful to be in a home stay - my host is a 23 year old university student who is filled with knowledge and advice for a young person in the city and has already introduced me to some of her friends. But with everyone in different neighborhoods there are definitely positives and negatives to the arrangement. Negatively, there can be a lot of alone time with everyone so spread out and since we are guests in other people's homes there isn't really a place for us to all congregate before going out or going to an event. The positive, however, is that we each get to know a different area of the city and help can spread the knowledge to our fellow abroad-ies.
Goals for next week include:
- not getting lost so frequently on public transportation (or at least not getting lost while confidently leading a group of people)
- learning some must-have German phrases
Perhaps that's the reason we don't start language classes until the second week - after a week of wandering around we're all desperately ready to learn how to say more than "halo" and "danke schön".
Wish me luck because I have a feeling I'm going to need it.
Stay funky folks.
Homestay number one of six is complete. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to stay in a slum here in Khon Kaen for three nights. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
We rode song taows to the communities that we were staying in. As I prepared to go I tried not to think too hard about the fact that I was about to live in a slum with a family that I had never met that spoke a language that I hardly speak. If I did, and I’m honest, my stomach would drop a little bit. When I arrived, my nong sow (younger sister) named Som (which means orange in Thai), picked me up from the community center and used the few English phrases she knew to engage me in conversation, asking my name and age. She led me across a busy downtown Thai street to my home for the next three nights, right next to the train tracks. My Meh (which means mom in Thai) waited for me towards the front of the house which doubled as a store front, selling small snacks and drinks to the community. When I walked in, Meh immediately asked if I was hungry, practically before I set my bag down. She was making Som Tham, or green papaya salad. I sat on a mat on the floor with Som and was introduced to the many people coming in and out of the house to meet the farrang (me, the westerner). I started to get the impression that everyone was related, because each person who walked in was introduced to me with familial pronouns. ‘This is Yaye’ (grandmother) my Meh said about an older wrinkled woman who walked into the living space. She actually was related to the family next door, but would walk me around holding my hand all the same. Dinner was served to me on the floor, and we ate family style. My younger brother (nong chai) named Captain (a nickname), Som, Meh, and I ate, while Pa looked on. It seemed to be tradition that we would always eat before Pa. After dinner I watched a few minutes of Thai soap opera, and didn’t understand a second of it, while also making friendship bracelets with Som.
In Thai culture it is customary to shower often, however, our home didn’t really have a bathroom. We had a spigot in a very wet area of the house where dishes and laundry were done, and showers were had. I termed it the wet room, or the wet hallway because that is effectively what it was. There were no doors, so when my family asked me if I wanted to ‘ab nam’ (take a shower) before bed, I didn’t know what to do. I ended up wrapping myself in a sarong and splashing cold water on my feet. They gave me weird looks when I came out of the wet room with dry hair. Sheepishly I went to bed underneath my pink, quite hole-y mosquito net.
I woke up the next morning with four bug bites on my forehead, one on my cheek, and one on my right eyelid- which resulted in an eye that was swollen shut for the whole day. My Meh turned on the light in the room that I shared with my siblings, and pushed her face up against my mosquito net asking ‘Mah-gieeeee! You eat Breakfast?!’ I did, and she made these marvelous home made Thai doughnuts. Paw crouched in front of me with curiosity on his face as I read and journaled in the family’s living space.
After classes that day, I returned for the second night with much less anxiety. I knew what to expect as I returned that evening to the community. My sisters both worked until late at night, and Paw was feeling sick, so he was asleep in the back room. It ended up being just meh, Captain, and I the whole evening. Because conversation was not an option, I resorted to pulling out my Thai textbook and asking my Meh ‘Pud yang nye’ which means ‘how do you say…?’ We spent about an hour like that, with her half watching the Thai soap opera and half responding to my question of ‘pud yang nye.’
The final night was full of tender moments. Though I had stayed with this family for only three nights, they had shared everything they had with me. It was really sweet to see how relationships were built around generosity, community and sincere thankfulness rather than language and other commonalities.
In the morning before I said goodbye for the final time, Meh chirped “Maggieee, forget me not?” and I certainly won’t. Both the family and the place will be remembered long after I leave Thailand because of their big, big hearts.
One thing that’ll surprise you about Dublin is everyone is talking about “crack”. Where to get the good “crack”, was last night good “crack”, etc. But, don’t worry, the Irish are not talking about cocaine. Rather, they are saying the word craic, which is Gaelic for having a good time or having a laugh.
Fun-loving, happy people may be the best way to describe Dubliners. Everyone is eager to help with directions, recommend the best sights to see, and of course, have some good craic.
Just the very first night, my friends and I went to a restaurant called the Hairy Lemon, which sounds really awful but actually has really good, authentic Irish food. But what stuck with me most about this restaurant was the waiter. He could tell it was our first night in Dublin and gave us lots of recommendations of good places to go, warned my friend whose purse was hanging off the chair about pick-pockets, and explained the unique décor of the restaurant. It was primarily American memorabilia given to him by the many people who had come through the restaurant and not only had great conversations with him, but once home, had kept in touch and sent him keepsakes to add to the wall.
Recently, I travelled with some friends to Cork to kiss the Blarney stone, bestowing anyone who kisses it with eloquent speech for seven years. The bus drive was 3 hours long and no exaggeration, our bus driver sang and chatted with us literally the entire time. Upon learning he and my friend both shared the last name of Cooney, he declared her his cousin and swapped contact information, telling her to keep in touch. All night long after that trip my friends and I sang songs like Molly Malone and Whiskey in the Jar through the streets of Ireland.
It’s refreshing to be exposed to such an open, welcoming environment. In the U.S., we tend to be a little more reserved; you’ll see more people avoiding eye contact on the street and keeping conversation with strangers to a minimum. Not that there aren’t friendly people everywhere, but the Irish sure stand out. Ireland is amazing, but it’s the people you encounter, all constantly in search of some good craic, that make it so much more.
The Danish word of the day is hygge.
The definition of the word is ???
If you haven’t been to Denmark then it’s likely that you have never encountered the fascinating concept of “hygge.” Pronounced HOO-geh, hygge is a word that defies description for many Danes. We Americans may approximate its meaning as “cozy,” but there is no real authentic English word that encapsulates all of the subtle nuances that hygge implies.
Hygge, unlike coziness, is not just a state of being but a mindset. It is an emotion of sorts. It is coming in from the cold and warming up next to the fire with a drink and a blanket wrapped around you. It’s a rich homemade dinner with your closest friends, with little candles decorating the table and your favorite mix tape playing in the background. It’s snuggling up on the couch watching Netflix with your boyfriend until you fall asleep.
But hygge does not only exist in wintertime. Eating ice cream in summer with your little sister could be hygge. Or building a sandcastle on the beach and then having a picnic. Or going berry-picking. Or baking a big pie and then sharing a slice with friends. The feeling comes over you and you’re hit with it suddenly (or it creeps up over you before you know what’s happening) and when it does, you know you’ve caught the hygge.
Interestingly, though, the Danes are just as ready to forcefully create a sense of hygge as to allow it to happen naturally. Many cafes, restaurants and bars have signs outside advertising a “hyggelig” (HOO-ga-lee) atmosphere. Whole shop sections are dedicated to objects meant to evoke hygge in the home. Danes string lights, light candles, burn incense, cover areas with plush blankets and cushions – anything to increase the hygge-osity of the space. Hygge is something to continually strive for.
Hygge came upon me for the first time in Denmark exactly one week from the day I touched down in Copenhagen. It had been a long, cold afternoon, with plenty of rain outside. I was buried under about six layers of blankets, slowly working my way through a mound of homework with a few other girls from our dorm. Eventually, someone brought up the idea to make a communal dinner. None of us were too invested in our work, so we put off our readings and papers in favor of raiding our cabinets in search of ingredients.
Eventually we had a pot of chicken stew going on the stove, with fresh biscuits baking away in the oven below. Stir, season, chop, mix – each of us seated with her own task to help the assembly of the meal go smoothly. A suggestion here, a sprinkle of salt there. The meal finished, we lit candles and dimmed the kitchen lights, folded our napkins fancily and laid out the “good” bowls and silverware. “To us!” we cheered, raising our glasses full of lemon water or milk. “Skål!” And then we tucked in to the food – maybe a bit under-seasoned, maybe a bit sloppily presented, but undoubtedly the most filling and satisfying dish I’ve eaten during my time abroad thus far.
Perhaps that was due to the stick and a half of butter we used to make the biscuits. Me, I’d like to think it was the hygge.
I was warned. My mother’s best friend spent her exchange in Maastricht in the 1980s. Upon inquiring her for advice regarding customs or cultural idiosyncrasies, she promptly cut me off with a swift “watch out- for Dutch people, honesty truly is the best policy.” How could this be a point worth noting? The phrase is common in the US, and most are raised to hold honesty, and being honest, in the highest esteem. What made the Dutch so special?
I quickly learned that one could equate honesty to directness. The Dutch rarely have an “off-color moment”- they are buttoned-up, mature, and expressive of exactly what they are thinking. My Dutch friend says it begins the moment they are born, when parents allow their children to act on not only their impulses, but also voice exactly what’s on their mind. Maybe this is the reason for the United Nation’s declaring the children of The Netherlands to be the happiest in the world. From childhood, the expressiveness only grows stronger, as I learned whilst trying to explain my way out of a bike collision with a Dutch teenager (it is worth nothing that the Dutch have an incredible grasp of the English language- even as he yelled at me I was impressed with his breadth of vocabulary). The Dutch may occasionally ask you “What do you think you are doing?” when your American tendencies to be loud and boisterous prove to be too out of the ordinary for them.
At first, I found the Dutch directness to be insulting. What gives you the right to insult me and my character quirks or my sense of humor? No one in US would have the audacity to tell me that my point is moot. But as I became more accustomed with biking, stroopwafels (a delicious Dutch cookie), and occasional windmill, I came to appreciate the honesty that the Dutch pride themselves on. It is refreshing to be with those who don’t “beat around the bush” and simply speak to the reality of the situation. As I begin this semester living in a house with a Dutch housemate, I am enthralled to learn from a culture that empowers individuals to speak their minds and express their opinions. I would love to see Americans speak their mind (within reason) to a greater extent, whilst simultaneously valuing what others have to say. My Dutch friends congratulate my progress from shy, reserved American to engaging and questioning international student. I can only hope that upon my return across the pond that Americans can join me on my path to more honesty and open communication. It’s refreshing to speak one’s mind.
The Dutch have a special phrase for this, what they might say in response to some of my “American” moments. Doe maar normal, dan doe je al gek genoeg. Just be normal, then you’re already crazy enough. Although I would never give up my funny quirks, the Dutch certainly keep me on my toes.
I arrived a week and a half ago to “The Land of Smiles,” also known as Thailand, and its nickname has certainly lived up to its reputation. This past weekend, our program arranged a trip for the students to visit a mountain forest temple in rural Thailand. To get to the hidden temple, we piled into the typical mode of public transportation in Thailand, a Songthaew (pronounced song-tau.) A Songthaew acts as a cross between a bus and a taxi. This taxi/bus hybrid is a pick up truck with a covered bed and two rows of benches facing each other; in Thai, song is two and thaew is bench. After a very bumpy, but beautiful one and a half hour ride through small villages, past forests of rubber trees and through rice fields, we arrived at the temple.
Once we arrived, we were brought to the most serene garden, where we sat on straw mats and got a lesson from a Thai monk on Buddhism. Different perspectives on life and the continuity of life fascinate me, so I was very excited to hear what the monk had to share with us. It was difficult to understand everything the monk was trying to convey, as he spoke little English, but his main message was to let go of suffering and pain, because while the body may die, the mind lives on forever. After his beautiful lesson, he led us in a one hour meditation.
Feeling calm and renewed, we went to set up the area where we would be sleeping that night. There was an awning in part of the forest, with straw mats placed underneath it to sleep. We hung our mosquito nets and then tried to go to sleep. However, we quickly learned why the Thais refer to their 95-degree weather as the cold season. At nighttime, it is freezing! Imagine 25 students in nothing but t-shirts and jeans in the middle of the forest in Thailand without any blankets or pillows, trying to sleep on the ground…. Not fun, but kind of funny. Note to future study abroad students in Thailand, bring a sweater because it is not always 95+ degrees!
After momentarily questioning our decision to sign up to sleep on a cold, hard ground, we were reassured we made the right decision the following morning. At 6 am, a nun (the term for a female Buddhist monk) woke us up with three strikes of a gong to meditate and help prepare breakfast. As the morning wore on, more and more Thais were showing up from the village below the temple to meet the farang (foreigner in Thai) and offer the monk, as well as us, food.
Offering alms to the monks of the village is a daily practice in Thai life. Typically, Thais will line up at sunrise to give food to the monks. At 8 am, we each lined up with a plate of cooked sticky rice and offered the rice to the monk of the temple, who collected the alms in a large metal pot. The monk must collect a lot of food in the morning because he is only allowed to eat one meal a day. This is an act to practice self-control and self-discipline, two very important tenets in the Buddhist faith.
After giving alms to the monk, we sat and meditated with the monk longer before diving into a feast of food. At this point, there were at least 30 villagers, the monk and nuns, as well as about 25 American students and we were all very hiu, or hungry. We scarfed down sticky rice, bananas, tamarind, fish, green papaya salad, and some brave ones even tried chicken heart and liver. Even after eating as much as we could, it seemed we hadn’t even made a dent in the food!
Shortly after breakfast, we paid respects to the monk and the villagers one last time before climbing back into songthaews to go back to the university in Khon Kaen. It was overwhelming to see how accepting everyone was to welcome us to their temple and it was so kind to see a group of strangers have such an outpouring of affection to people they had just met. It was interesting to compare the teachings of Buddhism side-by-side with the values of Buddhism in action.