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By LizGoodwin04

There was nowhere to run and there was no place to hide during the Songkran Water Festival. I found myself amidst a massive crowd of people, all wearing tropical shirts and carrying water guns. The streets were lined with stages of live music and street food and my ears were filled with the contrasting sounds of traditional Isaan music and bumping bass.

I desperately ducked and swerved as buckets of ice water were thrown in my direction and water guns were aimed at my body. The water was coming from every angle and every side; even out of passing cars driving by. Strangers came up to me and slathered wet baby powder all over my face. I was in the middle of the world’s most massive water fight.

Songkran, a three-day festival to ring in the New Year, takes place throughout all of Thailand, and in neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Sri Lanka as well. The name “Songkran” is a Sanskrit word, which means, “to move forward,” and marks the new astrological year as the sun moves from Aires to Taurus.

During Songkran, Thais start their day by giving alms to the monks at a temple and paying respect to the Buddha and end their day by celebrating with a massive water fight. The water symbolizes cleansing; an opportunity to wash away any bad luck and move into the new year with a clean start.

Here in Thailand, it is officially the year 2558 and I can’t wait to see what this year will bring!

By Shannon McKeown

            After having the amazing opportunity to travel to new places throughout Europe during my spring break, I’m now entering the period that all students dread, regardless of what continent you’re on: finals. Tackling finals in a new country, let alone in a new university with a different academic culture than your own, can be a difficult process. Finals period can be one of the most difficult parts of being abroad. As an abroad student, it’s easy to be distracted by everything happening around you. Of course you’d rather check out a cool new place and spend time with your new friends that you’ll be forced to say goodbye to soon. Therefore, I want to discuss the challenges of a finals period when you’re abroad, as well as how I’m currently overcoming them.

I’m studying a the British university of Queen’s University in Belfast. I’m sure you’ve heard how British academic culture is different from American academic culture. The rumors are true. The biggest difference I’ve notice between academic culture at GW and academic culture at Queen’s is the pacing and a greater sense of independence at Queen’s. At GW, it’s typical to have a mid-term exam, at least one paper, and a final exam, if not other assignments scattered throughout the semester. At Queen’s, there’s less assigned work for you to actually hand in, especially in the beginning of the semester. For example, I’m taking one course that requires only a final exam in the form of a 5,000 word paper. However, this one paper will be worth my entire mark. Therefore, there are pros and cons to this system. On the one hand, it may seem like you have a lot less work to do. However, in reality, your professors are expecting you to be working on this one assignment throughout the semester. Like I said, there’s more independence. They won’t be checking up on you or the progress you’re making, but if you aren’t doing any work until the end, it’ll show in you overall grade. That being said, it’s also a less stressful finals period if you are careful not to cram everything at the end. Unlike GW, we have more than a few reading days to prepare for exams. Rather, we have at least a couple weeks, if not more, depending on your exam schedule. Furthermore, each class is worth more credit here, so while I have to tackle five finals at home, I only have to worry about three here.

Therefore, there’s a lot of aspects of British academic culture that, in my opinion, makes for a less stressful finals period. However, the fact that I’m an abroad student makes it more difficult. It’s hard to not become distracted by all of the opportunities and events that seem more fun than spending the last month of your abroad semester in the library. In order to overcome this struggle, I’ve decided that the best approach to finals while you’re abroad is simply balance. You shouldn’t be in the library as much as you might be at GW. Let’s face it- in five years, you’d rather accept a grade that might be a little below your average than miss out on an opportunity that you might never get a chance to partake in at home. That being said, the biggest key to remaining unstressed is planning ahead. Here in Belfast, many students have adopted a ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude. This is a good rule to follow while abroad. Really, it comes down to using you’re study time wisely. When it is time to study, and when you have any spare time, put good use to it. Work hard in the library, rather than waste the time on Netflix or procrastinating. That way when that once and a lifetime opportunity comes along, or even a fun night out with your friends, you can enjoy your time and your abroad semester to the fullest, while also knowing that you’ve got a good grip on your academics.

Peace Gates of Seoul Olympic Park

안녕하세요 (hello)! Week 9 was the hardest week here so far because of midterms. But before the midterm week started, that Friday before massive hours of studying, I decided to take a personal fun day and explore parts of Seoul I really wanted to. Seoul Olympic Park was the first place on my list.

That Friday morning, I woke up at 8 am to go on a run at the Olympic Park. I arrived there rather early and it was a beautiful day. The entrance to the park was called the Peace Gate and had the Olympic rings on it. I stopped a group of Korean women to take my photo and then happily started my run inside. The statues were foreign and the views were green and gorgeous. My favorite statue was of these Greek half-faces that were angled towards each other. I saw a wedding, elderly Korean hikers, and a giant skin care festival. However, the coolest part was the fact that I was running through an actual Olympic Park where the worlds best athletes once competed. I am just so used to watching the Olympics on TV that  never in a million years would I have imagined going on a long run through the park in Seoul, South Korea. I took a total of three hours to peacefully run and explore the park as a whole. I even stopped at the museum to read about some of the events that took place at this specific park.

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Half-Face Olympic Park statues

After the park I decided to try a random stop on the metro called Garak Market. Garak market is a giant market where farmers go to sell fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, and other organic good. It was outside near two giant warehouses and was made of many long rows in which old Korean farmers sold their veggies. I don’t think many foreigners go to that market because people were staring at me more so than usual. I had a great cucumber and tried dried persimmons. After this, I went to Seoul Grand Park with Mike, John, Jesper, and our new friend Georgia. We went to a Korean Zoo. At the zoo we got to see animals that were from North Korea and my favorite animals were the red pandas. After the zoo we went back to Anam and got Korean BBQ with the rest of our friends.

Midterms here in Seoul were a challenge and took place outside of the normal class times. I had a midterm from 7-9pm on a Friday, putting a damper on my class-less Friday. My sister’s birthday was on Monday of midterm week and we caught up on life over Kakao talk. Kakao Talk is the Korean What’s App and that is how most of the Koreans communicate with each other.  After the 4 midterms I took, we did the typical things and went out in Anam for Soju and food. I tried a new flavor of Makgeolli, it was chestnut. That Saturday we spent all day in Korean Malls. Lotte is a huge company here in Korea. The name is on Lotte Hotel World, Lotte World Adventure, Lotte supermarket, and we were at Lotte Mall. We got to see a Korean fashion show and take photos with models. We got the impression that we were allowed in the show because we were foreigners and photographers took photos of us. Later, we accidentally ended up at a mall that sold the clothes of the designers of the fashion show and I ended up buying a big tan trench coat, which are really popular here.

Yesterday, Alissa and I went to Noryangjin Fish Market again and we both tried live squid. This was the point we realized that we have become one with the Koreans. Essentially, as stated in a previous blog, we went down into the fish market and chose a red snapper that was cooked on a grill, sashimi, and 4 live octopi. These octopi were sashimied for us at a restaurant and were still moving, even though they were in pieces, when we ate them. You would pick up the Octopi with your chopsticks and the tentaces would suction on to the chopsticks and squirm as you dipped them into the oil and salt mixture. Alissa and I both actually liked the taste of it even though it looked gross. We also had the pleasure of sitting next to a middle-aged Korean couple that taught us how to eat the food at our table and shared their Makgeolli with us. After our lovely meal, we got a tandem bike and went Han River biking. It was a perfect day. Stay tuned next week as I start my travels into Thailand and Hong Kong! 안녕(goodbye)!

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Live octopi we ate


By Ashlyn

I've been in Copenhagen so long that I had forgotten that larger, louder cities exist on this planet. Case in point: Dublin. My communications class made the trip out to Ireland two weeks ago for our long study tour. We visited a number of interesting sites -- including Europe's Google, Facebook, and Amazon headquarters -- and learned about how new media influences communities in Dublin (as opposed to Copenhagen or the United States).

If you're thinking about making a trip to Dublin, here are a few can't-miss stops. We were only in the city for a few days (and most of that time was devoted to academic visits), but I still felt like I was able to get a good feel for the city and its culture!

The Guinness Storehouse. Any visitor to Dublin must go here. Guinness is ubiquitous in Ireland, especially in Dublin where the big storehouse stands. The museum is enormous with several huge floors, multiple bars and restaurants, and interesting activities around every corner. Tickets come with a voucher for a free pint -- try learning how to pull your own pint, or head to the top floor for a beautiful bird's eye view of the city at the Gravity Bar.

Malahide Castle. This 12th Century castle is the perfect destination for a half-day trip from the city. Situated in the midst of a beautiful botanical garden, the castle is a fascinating glimpse into the world of old Ireland. Take a tour inside the castle and hear about the Talbots, who lived there until 1976 -- and the ghosts who are said to haunt the castle to this day.

Temple Bar. The best way to experience Irish culture is to go to an Irish pub -- and the best place to do just that is in Temple Bar. Temple Bar is itself a bar, but it is also the name of an area of the city famous for its Irish pubs. We visited several pubs, including the Brazen Head (the oldest pub in Dublin), and O'Donoghues, which features traditional Irish music. Be sure to order a pint and some Irish food -- I recommend mussels, bangers and mash, and Irish stew.

The Book of Kells. Now on display in Trinity College in the heart of Dublin, the Book of Kells is a beautiful illuminated manuscript that is well worth the cost to visit. The book is thought to have been created around 800 A.D. and was hand-crafted by monks. After viewing the book, you can take a walk around Trinity College's gorgeous library. Bibliophiles will not want to miss this!

By kaandle

As much as abroad is about traveling to new places and experiencing new, wonderful things, it's important to realize that every place you visit will not be your new favorite destination.  For my programs second week long excursion we traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia. I undoubtedly saw impressive architecture, learned of a deep history and experienced a unique environment, but I also reentered winter (it was snowing significantly when we arrived and on several mornings) and ate the same mayonnaise covered foods for a week.  But hey - that's Russia for you.  A word to the wise - borsch and Russian salad are a reality of every meal.  Despite the dietary and meteorological challenges, here are some of the highlights of this educational excursion.

Hermitage Museum

This former palace will be recognizable to any person that watched Anastasia as a child. The exterior is covers it a distinct green plaster and the interior is covered with even more impressive paintings and sculptures. Among the treasures of this collection are two completed Michelangelo's, a Rafael sculpture and a recently destroyed painting that was thought to be lost forever from a vicious stack with acid.  Absolutely worth your time. Even if you don't enjoy art, the walls of the rooms are still ornately decorated from its time as the Winter Palace.

Erarta Museum

For those who enjoy contemporary art, interactive exhibits, or things off the beaten track this is the place to go. It's a bit out of the way but the large exhibit - including five floors of permanent and five floors of temporary exhibitions - is a unique approach to curating a museum as well as introduces you to more Russian artists than Kandinsky.

The Ballet

The Mariinsky Ballet is Russia's second most prestigious company, after the Moscow Ballet. It was a wonderful surprise for me that we were going to a performance while in Russia, especially as a dance major. This is definitely an event worth seeing, not only to experience the Russian style ballet in its native land, but for the beauty and experience of a classic performance art.

By kennatim

Looking back, the biggest shock when I arrived in Ireland was how American I realized I was. I have been fortunate enough to travel overseas prior to this trip, but to become a resident of another country was not an easy task. The change forced me to realize how much I relied and focused on American culture and way of life. I hunted for Oreos in numerous supermarkets, wore my backwards hats, and overly embraced my foreignness. Now my room here at DCU is filled with an American flag, an American flag towel, American flag backpack, American flag flip flops, and an American flag duvet cover with a matching American flag pillowcase.

While I have continued to embrace my home culture and individualism, I have slowly embraced a more European way of life and made sure to try new things. At the very minimum, I have evolved from my over-the-top American flag shopping spree. Throughout our time in Ireland and our travels to other cities, we have frequently used the adjective “euro.” My wardrobe is now a little more “euro” after buying a couple pieces of clothing at a local store. I am a little more euro in that I can now look the right way when crossing a street. I say “sorry” instead of excuse me, which is an easy way for Irish to spot foreigners.

When I was in Brussels, I visited European Parliament, and on nights out I made friends from Austria to Egypt. In Scotland we visited a local food market and I made sure to try as many local fares as I could (but I could not bring myself to eat haggis.) In Paris, I became an expert on the sprawling Paris metro system. This time I was a bit more adventurous when I tried roasted duck and absolutely loved it. We drank wine and ate croissants and crepes in every corner of the city.

I am so glad I have been evolving into someone more comfortable with a culture, attitude, and home that is not my own. It has been great to get to mainland Europe as well to compare/contrast not just the U.S. and Ireland, but the U.S., Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium, etc. I have a few trips left and about a month in Dublin. I will be leaving behind so much but come back a person with a better level of cultural understanding. The transition back might not be easy but I will make it through. Even if that means covering everything in my room with an Irish flag.


By practiceyogadistrict

I just returned to Khon Kaen from my last homestay of the semester, and I thought this would be a good time to express the deepness of hospitality that I have experienced from Thai families over my short time here.

I have had homestays in a slum, in an organic farming village, in a Karen village, in a fishing village on an island, and then this final one in a village where the majority of the women are silk weavers. In each one I experienced the different quirks of the family, a goofy father, a blunt grandmother, two earnest younger sisters, and a prayerful mother. But this last one topped all the others in the immense generosity and love that radiated from the family that I stayed with.

We (my 14 peers and I) were gathered upon our arrival to the village at the meeting place where all of the Meh’s ‘ were coming to pick us up to take us home for our few day stay in the village. Then in walked a women with penciled in eyebrows and a vibrant purple shirt, her arms wide, “Sa-wa-dee-ka” she exclaimed in welcome. This was my Meh. Immediately hugging my friend Anne and I who would be staying with her. This was a surprise considering that Thai people rarely hug one another, let alone strangers.

Meh took us home and immediately allowed us to settle into the house. She spread before the two of us a massive dinner of at least six dishes. This was the first time in a homestay when the whole family ate with us. It is tradition in Thai families to allow children and elderly and guests eat first, then everyone else eats. It was sweet to get to enjoy food with everyone. Even though Pah consistently made comments on how I was avoiding the cold green fishy pureed seaweed soup. Later on Meh showed us to our bed. We were sleeping in the main room of the house in the only bed the family owned. Pah slept at a neighbor’s house and meh slept on a mat on the floor.

The following day we enjoyed a full day free. Meh gave us an extensive tour of the village. At every house we passed where someone was home, meh would prompt us to wai (bring your hands to a prayer position and bow slightly as a sign of respect) and say hello. She beamed, showing off her guests as we went.. Moving from house to house, we were given a tour of nearly every aspect of silk production. The silk worm larva, the large larva, the mulberry trees used to feed the larva, the larva creating the silk cocoon, the piles of bright yellow silk cocoons, the thread extraction process, the spinning process, the mudmee thread dying process, and finally the weaving process. With each villager we visited, each one allowed us to actively participate in the process, running the risk that our unskilled hands would ruin their work.

That night, our second and final night, the village threw a goodbye ceremony for us and then afterwards all of us had a potluck. However, meh had specially prepared Kai lug cuy for me, knowing it was my favorite dish, and gave me orders not to share it with anyone else.

The next morning had even more Kai lug cuy for breakfast, then meh walked us to where the vans would pick us up to drive us back to Khon Kaen. Again, she made us wai everyone we passed, and dressed us each in a silk scarf that she had woven herself, picked especially for us. This is immensely significant, because these scarves each cost around 20-30 US dollars, and are the equivalent of three weeks income if sold. Yet she adorned us with them and called us her own daughters; “Lug sowe con chan” she said. As we prepared to leave she gave us even more hugs, and as we got in the van and drove away she began crying. I was touched by how much love meh expressed for us after only two days. It made me wonder if houseguests in the US would receive the same warm familial hospitality.

Segway stop at the Temple of Debod!

This week, one of my dearest friends came to visit me in Madrid and of course the pressure was on to show her the time of her life. I wanted desperately for her to fall in love with Madrid, just like I had. The days leading up to Rita’s arrival, I kept making mental notes of things to go see, and places to eat. I soon realized that I hadn't even visited half of the things on my list. I then got to thinking that maybe, as students studying abroad, too much pressure is placed on us to “blend in,” and try our best to achieve the “local experience.” But, how are we truly supposed to learn about a country, if we don’t experience the touristic sites it is famous for? Still, to this day, there are famous spots in Madrid that I have yet to visit—the so called “tourist traps.”

The Gasparini room in the Royal Palace of Madrid

At this point, I was feeling like I missed out on the tourist experience, simply because I felt it wasn't the “cultural” thing to do. So, what was there to do but book a Segway tour? On a glorious Thursday afternoon, Rita and I hopped on and mastered the Segway. We had a wonderful tour guide named Alex, who led us on our brave and courageous conquest of all things “tourist” in Madrid. We went to spots like the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple that was deconstructed and then gifted to Spain as a thank-you for Spanish aid after the construction of the Aswan High Dam posed a threat to precious historical monuments, and the spot where the body of Miguel de Cervantes was uncovered after 400 years. Even though by the end of it, the backs of my knees were locked up and my feet were aching, riding around Madrid on a Segway was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Of course, we got the occasional “Oh, you tourists,” glares, but we were having too much fun to care. It's sad to think I may have not had my Segway experience all because I was too afraid of seeming like a tourist in my host country.

Even after our tour, I found myself visiting places with Rita that I, too, had never been to. We toured the inside of the Royal Palace of Madrid, which was surprisingly comparable to the lavish style of Versailles. My favorite part of the palace was the Gasparini Room where King Carlos III dressed and greeted guests. In this room, porcelain vines and flowers clung to every wall—even the ceiling. Rita and I also made a stop at the supposed best place for “chocolate con churros” in Madrid. I had never been here, because I was told “other places were better,” but experiencing such a landmark for myself was definitely a worthwhile experience.

Maybe I got too carried away with myself, or maybe too much pressure was placed upon me to have an authentic Madrileño experience. Whichever the case, I should have tried harder to find a balance between local and tourist. Why did I really care if people thought of me as a tourist? What is so bad about visiting a foreign country and wanting to see and learn about its famous sites? This is a question that is rarely addressed in the study abroad community, but most definitely should be. I think it would spark an interesting, yet thought-provoking debate.

Rowing boats in Retiro Park, like a typical tourist.