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By Adaeze


I can't believe study abroad is coming to an end. In a few days, I'll be off to America. It honestly feels like such a dream! How does time fly so fast?? In honorable of the end of study abroad, I'll tell you a little story about my time here. ...continue reading "On Leaving France and Finding My Peace of Mind"

By practiceyogadistrict

Drains and Justice

This past week was quite a draining one both emotionally and physically. The study program has fully launched into final project time. Since this past Sunday I have spent 4 days in a community interviewing and filming stories for a mini documentary for hours on end (I have shot over 160 GB of footage). Late nights and early mornings. That’s the physically draining bit. The emotional drain has been the content of the stories.

We were first asked to come and tell this community’s story by a local NGO. Why? Because of the injustices and suffering they have gone through since last August. In this past August, the Thai government instituted this new policy called the ‘Master Plan.’ This plan was set in order to reclaim national forest land from investors farming on it. However, investors paid off the military that was sent to drive them from the land, and the military as a result, picked on the easiest target, these poor villagers. These villagers were charged for trespassing on the land that they have been farming for generations, and now face charges and potential prison time if found guilty for trespassing or farming the land. Not only have these villagers lost their home, their livelihood, and their land, but they also are racking up debt paying for court fees.

In my four days in the community, I heard heartbreaking stories. Stories of a family in which both the parents were put in prison, though only one was charged for ‘trespassing,’ and now the three children are left without the pillars of their family. I heard stories of wives falling into serious mental health and psychiatric problems because of the stress this experience put on the family. I heard stories of a man who not only lost his land, but also his wife and children who left and got a divorce due to fear of the instability of having to fight in court. Story after story after story. Each one equally as devastating.

What is my hope in all this? Isaiah 9:2-7.

Though their stories are hard to hear, I am privileged to get to tell their story in whatever way I am able. I pray that as I tell their story, they might experience greater grace and justice in their lives and that they might have hope.

By LizGoodwin04

As I walked through the village of Chonnabot in Northeastern Thailand, I could see every step of the silk-weaving process. I saw silk worms feeding on mulberry leaves and yellow silk being extracted from the worms and spun onto giant spools. Women weaved in the shade of the open space beneath their wooden houses raised on stilts. The beautiful and rich-colored silks popped against the simple, wooden looms they were woven on.

Thailand is famous for its silk and weaving is an important part of Thai culture. On Wednesday, I visited the village of Chonnabot in Khon Kaen province, which is famous for having some of the finest mut mee silk in the country. The mut mee process is often referred to as “tie-dying.” The silk threads are tied together with a fiber before dyeing to resist the dye and create a design. When the dye is dry, the fiber is cut away and the undyed spots are painted with other colors. The more colors in a piece of mut mee silk, the more complicated the silk is to design and make.

While I was in Chonnabot, I stayed with a family who make their living from mut mee weaving. They gave me a first hand tour of the village, bringing me first to their neighbors who raised silk worms. In order to extract the silk, you have to boil the worm in the cocoon and then the thread is taken off the cocoon and threaded onto a spool. The leftover boiled worms, they eat. I, of course, had to try a boiled silkworm and they weren’t too bad! Just very chewy…

After chomping on a silkworm, we headed over to a woman who weaves using the traditional loom. She had a consistent rhythm. Step on the left peddle, thread, step on the right peddle, thread, and so on. She made the process look so easy! However, after sitting down and trying to weave a bit myself, I experienced how difficult weaving is firsthand. I was terrified of messing up the intricate pattern they had already begun!

The whole silk extraction and weaving process impressed me, but what impressed me and surprised me the most is how the loom has become in many ways the center of the village. It is how the village supports themselves and preserves their culture. Weaving, I’ve discovered, is just one of the many treasures of Isaan!

Hong Kong Skyline

안녕하세요 (hello)! Weeks 10 and 11 on this study abroad journey were fantastic. It was the time of the Buddha holiday, so some classes were cancelled and my friends and I decided to go on a trip to Thailand and then Hong Kong! It was so amazing to be able to adventure around Asia like that. The trip took a total of 6 days in Thailand and 5 days in Hong Kong.

I arrived in Thailand on Thursday night and our hostel was located in a place called Nana. The first sight of Thailand that my friend John and I caught was of Lady Boys lining the street of our hotel and offering tickets to raunchy attractions. It was very confusing because these hot women would be walking around and you were never really sure if they were actual women. The culture in Thailand was honestly so progressive that at the end it was not that big of a deal. It was hot, humid, and everything was in your face, so that night Jesse, Sabrina, Mike, John, and I went to eat Arabic food at 3am. The next day we went out to explore the city. We stopped by a street vendor for 90Baht worth of Thai food(less than 3$). I got basil chicken and rice. Then we explored the metro and city markets and raced Tuk-Tuks (rickshaws) back to our hotel to meet our friends Gabby and Danny, who are abroad now in Tokyo. Later that night we went to the Red Light District of Thailand and there club promoters would yell at you to come see their Ping-Pong shows. Everything at the Red Light District was obviously very explicit and vulgar. We went in to see what a Ping-Pong show was and honestly it was not something I would want to see again.

Baby tiger at tiger temple

The next day we explored various temples. The architecture surrounding them was gorgeous and we also explored Khao San Road, a typical tourist shopping district, and bought elephant pants there. That night we ended up at Skybar from the Hangover 2. Everything was expensive but the view was to die for. Sabrina’s birthday was that night at 12am so we went to an ice bar to celebrate. I have never seen an ice bar but essentially you go in and the workers give you bear costumes and you go into a room made entirely of ice. That was a great experience because I had no idea what it was and it was so silly. The next day we went to more temples and then the Weekend Market. At the temples I saw the famous reclining Buddha. Then we took a river boat cruise around Thailand. I drank coconut juice on the boat and I felt like I was in a movie. The weekend market was just your typical tourist market. We took Tuk-Tuks everywhere. The humidity was crazy as well because there was no way you would be able to go through the day with dry clothes. The next day we booked a tour for the Floating market and Tiger Temple. At the Floating Market we essentially sat inside of a long boat and went down a canal where other vendors sold stuff to you off of their boats. Then we got Pad Thai at a local restaurant and took the bus to the Tiger Temple. The Tiger Temple was my favorite experience because we got to see and interact with adult and baby tigers. We got to feed the baby tigers and play with them. I felt overjoyed.

Fun facts about Thailand is that fruits of all sorts are sold for 50cents on the streets all ready for you to eat, it’s very hot, Tuk-Tuks are the mode of transportation, and Pad Thai is still just okay. On Tuesday I left my friends in Thailand to join my friend Alissa in Hong Kong.

Let me tell you that Hong Kong was not what I expected. I imagined stereotypical China and having a hard time getting around. What I saw was western people and familiar stores. However, it was an amazing experience all the same. Alissa and I woke up on Wednesday and went to try local foods. We tried Congee, which is a mystery ingredient in rice and a banana leaf. It was odd but apparently a local favorite. Then we met up with Alissa’s cousin Betty, who works for CNN in Hong Kong, and she showed us around. We went to Hong Kong Disneyland and met Minney Mouse and enjoyed the rides. The castle was under construction and therefore the top tier was made of a box. The rides were 1minute long maximum and cute babies from all over the world flocked the Disney streets. Overall, the  experience was very exciting and it was interesting to see how the parks differed from the United States. That night we got typical Chinese food in the city. We ate dumplings, pork buns, string beans, etc. It was amazing. There was not a night in Hong Kong when we weren’t extremely full. All thanks to Betty for showing us around.

IMG_7937 (1)
Reclining Buddha

The next day we got Dim Sum in the morning at a local Dim Sum place around our hotel. We were seated at a table with random Cantonese speaking people and they showed us how it worked. We ate massive pork buns and dumplings and it was amazing. Tea was served with everything. Then we went to see the Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery and the village around it. It was really high in the mountains and it was a foggy day, so the Buddha looked ominous. Alissa and I walked around the village surrounding the Buddha and got souvenirs. That night we took the ferry around in Causeway Bay and saw the skyline. It was the prettiest city skyline I have ever seen, including New York City. Afterwards we got Peking duck and Maccha, green tea ice cream, for dessert. The next day was Alissa’s birthday so we celebrated at Stanley Island and market, where we ate three old-school western desserts, and then at a Chinese hot pot place. Then we went out on the town with Betty and her friend to Lan Kwai Fung, LKF.

The last full day was my favorite because we go to go on a Junk boat to an island 1 hour off of the coast of Hong Kong. The junk boat was meant for a going away party of one of Betty’s coworkers. From the boat we got to see amazing mountains and water and eventually jumped into Millionaires Bay next to Sai Kung Island. Hong Kong is such an interesting place in that it’s a city with a high-rise skyline against huge mountains and yet has island with clear, light blue water. I got a chance to meet engineers that work in Hong Kong and with them we swam to the little island. The weather was perfect and not as humid as Thailand. That night we had Szechuan food and then we went back home to Seoul.

Wow I can’t believe that I have the opportunity to do all of this and I would recommend an abroad experience in Seoul to anyone. With that said, I am so happy to be here at my home in Seoul. 안녕(goodbye)!

By Ashlyn

I hate planes.

I didn't always hate planes. Well, that is to say -- I didn't always know that I hated planes. Maybe I always had it in me, though. I'm generally a pretty nervous person, and everyone knows air travel brings out the worst in people.

Before I went abroad for the spring, I had only flown maybe a handful of times. All of those flights were, for the most part, straightforward and easy -- a trip to Disney World, or to visit my grandparents, or to see my boyfriend in Chicago. No transfers. No passports. Stressful, yes, but infrequent enough that it didn't really matter. But now, after taking 11 flights over the past three months, my neutrality regarding planes has taken a nosedive (figuratively speaking) into full-blown dislike. But, since air travel is necessary at the moment, I'm learning to cope. What can you do if you're like me and you really don't like planes? Here are a few tips.

Figure out what seat works best for you. Are you a window sitter? Aisle sitter? Middle sitter (do those really even exist)? Find out which one gives you the most space (or reduces your airsickness most, or lets you lean up against the window and nap best) and try to aim for that spot every time. But, of course, you might not always get your first pick -- which leads me to my next point...

Try to be flexible. Of course, if you're nervous like I am that's a really hard thing to do. But if you're flying frequently, inevitably something will go differently than planned at some point -- whether that's something big like a flight cancellation or small like a reshuffling of seats. Try to remain as calm as possible when things get changed up at the last minute. Ask yourself, "Will this problem affect me still in an hour? How about 24 hours?" If the answer is no, then try your best to remain calm and roll with the punches.

Bring equipment/distract yourself. My tools of the trade include: minty gum, earplugs, noise canceling headphones, and a playlist of my favorite songs. If you tend to get hungry on long flights, bring a snack. If your neck gets sore, get one of those fancy neck pillow thingies. Also, it's always great to bring a distraction, especially for the longer flights -- something to keep your attention focused and away from the turbulance or that crying baby behind you. A book, crossword packet, or mobile movie will usually do.

Remind yourself of the facts. One of the reasons I don't like flying is that I really don't fully understand how the plane gets into the air and how it stays up there. It feels a lot better to actually know what's going on while you're zooming up around the clouds. Understanding can take some nervousness away. Taking a look at the statistics can also soothe a worried mind. Air travel is currently safer than ever, and though it might be hard to believe, you're better off in a plane than in a train statistically speaking! Think about that the next time you're a bit jittery before takeoff.

By kaandle

"Tschuss" is to Germans what "Ciao" is to Italians.  This word was one of the first I learned (and actually remembered) this semester and three months later it remains among my favorites.  Although my German abilities are far from advanced, being able to throw out a colloquial phrase makes me feel like I can pull of my Berliner status a little bit better.  Even if my German professor hadn't taught us this word early in the semester, it'd be impossible to not pick up this phrase as it's said everywhere from parting with friends to leaving a store.

Pronounced "choo-se" it's a causal way of saying "bye" or "see you later". When leaving a store, it also suffices as a "thank you" and "bye" simultaneously.  If you're more of a "bye-bye" person tschuss can also be pronounced "choo-see", although be warned its mostly 15 year old girls running around with this pronunciation.

As much as I like the word tschuss, I must admit I was disappointed "auf Wiedersehen" wasn't a common phrase. Coming to Germany auf Wiedersehen was my only non-food related German saying - mostly thanks to The Sound of Music - but imagine my surprise when I learned auf Wiedersehen is pretty much only said in very formal situations or Bavaria in southern Germany.  But at the end of the day tschuss is significantly easier for me to pronounce correctly and tends to roll of the tongue.  Of all the German words that have become everyday vocabulary tschuss is more than likely one that will subconsciously follow me back to the United States.

By gopro camera

One day, I decided to wear the GoPro on my head to record my friend and my self surfing on a local beach. While paddling through waves crashed down of me, I held on to the GoPro tight. We soon passed the waves and swam a football field out in the open water. And as we passed through a second break with waves topping eight-feet above my head, the most beautiful sunset I had seen that semester illuminated pink, purple, and orange over the Gold Coast’s Skyline, the waves, and our boards. Of course, I saved every moment with my GoPro.

Once back on shore, my friend said “Hey, Jesse give me the GoPro, we’ll record the waves crashing into us as we stand in front them.”

Hesitantly I responded, “Okay fine. Just make to wrap the head strap tightly around your wrist.”

“Yeah man, of course.”

Five minutes later, I saw him holding my “GoPro with just two fingers as waves crashed in. Two minutes later I saw his two fingers but no GoPro and then him running his hands frantically through the water. We ended up searching for my GoPro in the light-less waves for an hour without any luck. My eyes soon began to water.

He could replace the GoPro but not the memories that it contained. That GoPro not only contained footage of the sunset but also the only footage of a camping trip I went on the previous trip, which was one of my life’s favorite adventures. The next day, I went scuba diving with nine-foot manta rays, six-foot sharks, squid, spanish dancers, and a variety of fish. I was unable to capture the moment without the GoPro.

I was pissed. Not so much at him for carelessly holding another person’s GoPro over the ocean, but more at myself for letting him do something so foolish. I now had no tangible memory of my most prized memories of the semester.

My friend soon realized that his GoPro, which was broken, was still on warranty. We went in to exchange his GoPro for a new one, which he would then give to me. However since the store didn’t have the model I had purchased, it let us exchange the GoPro for the newest model.

I was then able to use this new GoPro to record my trip to New Zealand and filmed everything in top-notch quality. This was lucky, because my lost GoPro was starting to deteriorate after so much use, and its filming quality was beginning to get worse and worse. My New Zealand footage and all other future footage would not have been and will not be as nearly as good as the footage that was filmed with the new GoPro.

And my friend would never had thought to check the warranty on his GoPro if he hand’t lost mine, so he would not have had a working GoPro either way.

So despite my initial sadness, it all kinda worked out in the end.

My previous blog posts have discussed my identity and how my identity effects my future. I chose this story, because it reminds me if times get rough, good times will always be around the corner. And they end up coming around, I plan on recording it with a GoPro.

Grave of my great-great grandfather's gravesite in the village of Cloonfush
Grave of my great-great grandfather's gravesite in the village of Cloonfush

One of the main reasons behind my decision to study in Ireland was my family background. Although I never had any contact with my Irish relatives prior to this trip, they have made my semester so much better. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, my cousin Joe has taken me on trips exploring much of Ireland. A few weekends back I got the surreal experience of visiting the village of my ancestors.

My program of 34 Americans here at DCU was scheduled for a bus trip exploring the West of Ireland. It was a great time where we got to experience everything from the eclectic Galway City to the barren but beautiful Achill Island. At the end of the excursion, Joe met me to explore a bit more of Connemara and go on our way to Tuam, Co. Galway, about 40 minutes outside of the city.

Tuam is a small village that only recently has been connected easily to Galway City and henceforth Dublin with the advent of EU money funding new roads in Ireland. As we were about to enter the town, Joe made a quick left onto a long, narrow road. There was not much to this area except a few old houses, some new houses, a lot of land, and a couple sheds. As Joe’s brother Maurice told me later that night, even though the family home was no longer standing, this village known as Cloonfush is “where is all began.”

At the very end of the road, there was an old cemetery. We searched the graves until we found the grave of my great-great-grandfather of Cloonfush in the picture shown. Being in the footsteps of my ancestors and seeing this cemetery was unreal and an experience I will never forget.

We then carried on to Tuam, where I was shuttled around to a few houses to meet cousins, aunts, etc. Pictures were taken, stories were told, family trees were drawn and analyzed, and of course there was plenty of tea. That night I then had the pleasure of enjoying a couple pints with my distant cousins at a local pub. I spent the night at my grandmother’s first cousin’s house. Although we had to leave early the next morning, I was so fortunate to get such a grand welcome into Cloonfush, Tuam, and the whole west of Ireland. “Where it all began.”

By jdippel529

Coming to Europe as an American, I knew that I was in danger of committing some cultural faux pas. What I didn’t realize was just how silly these faux pas would seem to me, and how often I would be embarrassing myself. One of the most important things I have learned while living here in Spain is that culture is a pretty remarkable force. Culture shapes the way we think so drastically that what seems completely ridiculous to me, makes all the sense in the world to someone else (and vice versa). Just so you can see what I mean, here is a quick list of the most “offensive” Spanish faux pas I have committed, to date:

  • Eating an un-peeled pear
  • Walking around my apartment without slippers
  • Taking a bite out of a piece of bread without breaking it first
  • Tipping the waiter at a restaurant
  • Taking a sip from my water bottle on the metro (crazy, right?!)

BUT, committing all of these heinous crimes has taught me to not be afraid to laugh at myself, and to just cut myself a break sometimes. I was brave enough to go abroad and embrace an entirely different culture, so I am definitely brave enough to keep on embarassing myself...right?

By glaveym

By the time May has rolled around in DC, the last of the cherry blossoms have fallen and students are hard at work studying for finals. In Maastricht, we do things a little bit differently. Semesters are broken up into three "periods," with six periods total for the academic year. For those of you who are math inclined, yes, this means six rounds of finals versus the conventional two. I cannot lie, this is a daunting, although not unsurmountable, academic endeavor. However, this is something I have really come to appreciate about the Dutch system. In these periods, we only take two classes versus five. We spend significantly more time learning the material and content, and the class-based discussions truly make a difference in my retention of the curriculum. This has its trade offs, as having taken four finals at this point, and two to go, and all the stress that comes along with that, has definitely made me miss the semester, two final system. Many of these finals consist of take-home exams, something I wasn't expecting coming from GW. The professors trust you with the knowledge and resources available outside the exam room, and from that, the standards of excellence are significantly heightened. By allowing for take-home exams and papers, the professors certainly expect a very high level of work to be turned in. All of the hard work isn't for nothing, however, as UCM allows for a class-free "reflection week" following finals, meant to allow students to decompress, travel, or enjoy Maastricht without academic obligations. Many choose to do service-learning trips during this time, or find community volunteering opportunities during this break. After reflection week, it's right back to starting new classes with new subject matter, obligations, people, and teachers. The rotation almost makes it feel like every seven to eight weeks is a new experience, with new opportunities to explore an academic subject, meet new people, befriend a professor. I can't say I'll be too sad when I say goodbye to the period system, having finals twice a year seems just find to me.