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By Maya Haziza

The bustle of millions of people running around the city and preparing for the new year is a unique time in Hong Kong. People swarm the streets buying orchids, fruits, and gifts for their friends and family and never miss taking their children out to the carnivals in the city. As I walk down my block towards my apartment I can smell the pungent scent of Chinese cooking fill the air as I step on wet streets that have been sprayed with water during the preparation of orchids to be sold.

I put my hands together and shake them as I approach a Chinese couple and say “Gong Hei Fat Choy,” which means “Congratulations and may you be prosperous.” If the couple has truly connected with you they will often times give you a little money in a red envelope as a way of reciprocating the wish for prosperity. My friends and I roam the streets in Victoria Park, where there is a carnival for the new year, trying different Chinese deserts and buying the little knick knacks for sale.

The reason I find this time of year so special in China is because it is the most exciting and joyful holiday in Chinese culture. Every family spends weeks preparing for the new year celebration or planning their travels to mainland China from Hong Kong and visiting their families and friends. The metro is packed with people pushing their way out of the exits to make it to see the new year parade in Tsim Sha Tsui. Then finally on the day of the new year, Friday - it all stops and there is silence throughout the streets. All the stores and malls are empty and everyone is with their loved ones welcoming in the new year together.

I am so grateful that I was able to be in Hong Kong during the new year and experience the excitement. For the new year my roommates and I have planned a 9 day trip to Vietnam ... can’t wait to share it next.

By eevenden

Halló allir! (Hello everybody!)

When people talk about Iceland, one the first things that comes to mind is “Vikings”. Famous for its sagas and home to Leif Ericsson, Iceland is often stereotyped as the ancient home for Nordic Gods, warriors, blacksmiths, etc., etc. As a foreigner, it can be very difficult to separate fact from fiction here, since (in America) we do not learn much about northern Europe, and, as tourists, we want to believe these interesting myths about Vikings. However, it is important to know that much of the “Viking history” of Iceland is exaggerated for tourism, and in fact, few people would consider themselves decedents of Vikings. While I am here, I am taking a class about Icelandic culture, where we’ve talked a bit about the history of Iceland. So I would like to share some of the information I have learned in order to counteract a bit of the stereotyping we have abroad.

In our class, we’ve learned that the common historical narrative for Iceland tends to look like this (see below), with the “prosperous times” of Iceland being associated with independence, and the “unprosperous times” being associated with foreign rule. However, this trend is not necessarily true, since the good and bad times of Iceland also correlate with climate changes. While Iceland was under foreign rule, it was also experiencing the Little Ice Age, which made life here much more difficult.

To start from the beginning, Iceland was most likely colonized around 871 by Scandinavian and British farmers. Most likely, Iceland was visited before this for fishing purposes, and even inhabited before this time by Irish Monks. However, 871 marks the year when permanent settlement began, and this date has been estimated by comparing literary and geological data. Iceland is actually the youngest European society, despite the perception of it being very old.

...continue reading "Icelandic History & U.S.-Iceland Relations"

By sheldonwongg

Before travelling to Nepal, I spent a huge deal of my time researching Nepal, watching vlogs of people travelling through, and reading about the best spots to hit up while studying here. I created a fantasy land, one that would never be able to match the reality of Nepal. For those with preconceived notions of what this country is, no, it is not miles and miles of mountains. Nor is it starving beggars lining the streets of cities. Nepal is a complex and multi-cultural country that is not what I expected a developing country to be. It wasn’t all snow-capped mountains, but also smog and dust. And everywhere I looked, I could see the diversity that Nepal has to offer. There are men in business suits and little children in school uniforms. I came with the belief that I would be totally engrossed in an experience that was completely humbling and life changing. I thought that my semester in Nepal would be filled with constant adventure and experiences that would be pivotal to my life. In my time here in Nepal, I’ve realized that life here in Kathmandu can be just as mundane as it is in America.


Yes, I’ve gotten to do really amazing things like stay with a total of five different Tibetan families, hike around the highest mountain range in the world, and see some of the most sacred Buddhist and Hindu sites to exist. But all of that is exceptional, most of my days are filled with studying for Tibetan quizzes and trying to make friends in a completely new country. I think the biggest reality I faced was understanding how the little things in my semester here would end up leaving the biggest impact. All the monasteries and mountains have blurred together, but the nights playing cards and laughter that ensued from the misadventures will stick with me forever.

By maxleo43

I am still trying to understand why someone would not want to come to China. If you love cities, Shanghai is one of the most metropolitan areas in the world. Like culture and history? Try Xiamen where historic architecture meets the modern world. Prefer the mountains? Wuyi Shan is the perfect mix of quiet town and picturesque national park. These are simply the different settings of China that I have experienced in only twelve days. I know from talking to people who live here that there are so many different landscapes to experience. The point being, China is as diverse in its offerings as the U.S., if not more.

Shanghai reminds me in many ways of New York City. While I am sure that over time I will find them to be very different, at first experience, I found some similiarities. They both have areas that are full of high rises and incredible expensive apartments (Manhattan and Pudong). This area is separated from the rest of the city by a river (The East River and the Pu River). The area immediately on the other side of the river is very trendy, but not as showy (Brooklyn and French Concession). Both cities then have a huge influence from other cultures and feature restaurants showcasing this cuisine. Finally, the pride that people have for these cities is very similar. Both cities give their residents bragging rights that you will hear people touting, even within the city. There is one big difference however; Shanghai is much more modern.

Xiamen is a large port city in Southern China. Many of its buildings are original and it feels very authentic. With the exception of two very large hotel towers, the city is relatively low. This makes the city feel smaller and more personable. It reminded me of Charleston, SC in its pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. Xiamen is heavily influenced by Taiwanese culture (They are only about 100 miles from each other) and has a number of street markets with fresh produce, handmade trinkets and tasty food. Xiamen is a warm southern escape from the cold of the north.

...continue reading "It’s Not What You Think"

By frenezeder

Greetings from Paris, France! The theme for this post is strictly divine food. While I am a pescatarian and dairy sensitive individual, I nearly threw every rule out of the book this week in France. I mean this is the home of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, so I for sure was not going to miss out on all the dairy filled desserts.

This is the tale of two eclairs. Both were filled with a delicious milk chocolate cream and most likely severely over priced, but each was so incredibly different and one was clearly better than the other. The first was from the classic Laduree on the Champs de-Elysees, which is exactly how I imagine Bell’s feast in Beauty and the Beast. The inside is embellished with old school French white and turquoise crown molding with golden accents. This is definitely not the place to have a budget at, but absolutely phenomenal food. Paris is truly the city that never sleeps as we went to dinner at 9 pm and finished dessert at 11:30. The eclair was divine and more on the fluffy pastry side.

In contrast, the very next morning I went to Angelina’s, which I believe is in the 8th district, and had my second eclair there. Yes- two eclairs within a 12 hour period. Angelina’s is exactly how I imagine a bougie Paris cafe to be. The room was full of elegant furniture reminiscent of King Louis XIV. This eclair was the single best thing I have ever consumed in my life. It was flaky and covered in dark chocolate, yet perfectly chilled and soft on the inside. This place is much less touristy than Laduree and an absolute must splurge.  When in Paris eat every eclair and savor every moment. I am already planning my run and cleanse, but definately worth it.

By tanvibanerjee

“Gong xi fa cai! Hong Bao na lai?!”

My local friend promptly burst out laughing. “Happy new year to you too… but… do you know that you just asked me for gift money?” She said, with tears in her eyes. I had assumed that this was the standard way to greet people for Chinese New Year.  Furthermore, I had repeated the greeting to every Chinese Singaporean I had interacted with, including my professor. Apparently, I had just committed my first faux pas in the year of the dog.

Chinese New Year is one of the biggest festivals in Singapore and is often celebrated with family reunions, food, and Hong Bao. Hong Bao translates to ‘red envelope’ in English and is often synonymous with the cash gifts or “lucky money” that is gifted in the envelopes. During Chinese New Year, family members, friends, and colleagues exchange these packets of lucky money. In most cases, it is the elders or married couple who give the Hong Bao to younger or unmarried people. Sometimes, children may gift Hong Bao to their elderly relatives. My local friend told me that saying “Hong boo na lai” or “Give me the red packet, please” is a very cheeky way of asking for the money. This greeting is generally reserved for greeting close acquaintances and friends.

“Don’t say that to an aunty you don’t know lah” she warned me. “Or maybe you should ah! You are a foreigner, you can get away with it.”

A few weeks before the Chinese New year, red decorations start popping up everywhere in Singapore. The red color is considered to be lucky in Chinese culture. Thus, complicated red paper cuttings of traditional characters for luck and prosperity are stuck on doors and windows. One of my local friends even changes all her bed covers and pillow covers to the festive red and gold.

...continue reading ""Gong Xi Fa Cai!" My Chinese New Year in Singapore"

By teniolab

I am so thankful that we are required to take the Setswana language course as a CIEE Community Public Health student. As a CIEE Arts and Science student, you are given the option to take the course. I cannot imagine why you would choose not to take the course because I having the best time learning the language.

The official language of Botswana is English. English is mainly spoken in Gaborone, where I am studying. Setswana is also spoken by the majority of the country. Every Motswana that I come across has said, "Setswana is so easy. You will be fluent by the time you leave!". I usually follow their statement with a laugh. Setswana is not too difficult to learn, thankfully due to my fabulous teacher Mma Phono. From learning the "Survival Setswana" on the first day of orientation to learning the different forms of greetings (very important in Botswana culture), we have come so far. Mma Phono's teaching style is unique in itself. She pretty much acts out a dialogue with specific body language and we just play a guessing game. The students and I continuously impress the locals we come across, given that we have only been here for five weeks. Unfortunately, the expectations are higher for me because everyone here assumes that I am a Motswana. People insist on speaking Setswana to me, even though I tell them I do not. They literally won't stop. It's just something you get used to though.

I have a couple of favorite phrases. One is specifically related to the struggle I knew I would face with people assuming that I was a Motswana. "Ga ke bua Setswana." If you haven't guessed it yet, the phrase means: "I do not speak Setswana". I throw that phrase around about a handful of times a day. 🙂

...continue reading "I Setswana Learn the Language"

By Marissa Kirshenbaum

It's funny how the first time I truly felt like Paris was my home was the minute I left it. When you travel, you simultaneously indulge in a different culture and reminisce about the place you left behind. You compare, and you analyze. The second you begin to juxtapose your trip with your normal life, you recognize that "normality" as the place that you call home. And that is what is truly special.

My first trip was to Milan, a spontaneous voyage one of the first weekends into my program. I was so excited to go to Italy, a place I so passionately hoped to visit that it has practically been engraved into my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I absolutely loved the sights, the food, and the atmosphere: although geographically close to France, Italy does not nearly resemble it. I found myself making note of the people and the culture of Milan, and analyzing its similarities and differences to Paris. Some things were positively different, while others were a negative change. I found comfort in my comparisons, for I felt as though I knew enough about Paris to compare it.

This pattern of comparing and analyzing leaked into second trip to Brussels, and even more into my most recent voyage to Fez. I remembered Paris when I was traveling, keeping it alive in my thoughts as I walked different streets. Paris was in Italy, in Belgium, and in Morocco. Rather than a weekend trip or a check off of a travel list, Paris was the destination at the end of everything, the place to come back to.

...continue reading "Chez Moi"

By Raman Mama

One of the best parts of being in a European location during your study abroad is that you have the opportunity to see other primary cities in Europe.

My first stop in London was to Berlin - Germany's Capitol.

Getting to Berlin was relatively easy. I booked my flights through a website called Ryan Air, which is a premier option for students looking to travel on the cheap. The flights were about 50 pounds of 60 dollars all together. Then, I booked my hostel for about 15 dollars a night. Altogether, I was able to book flights and accommodations for less than 100 dollars, which is a pretty great deal.

When I was in Berlin, the weather was not great, but that didn't stop me from seeing all that I could..

I went to the Berlin Wall, Berlinische Galeria, and a very popular bookstore called "Another Country" where they host film clubs and dinners. I loved the bookstore because it was founded by a woman from London who one day, decided to open a store so she could share her collection with other people. I grabbed two new reads for myself.

...continue reading "Travelling in Europe – Berlin Edition"

By Nora_Wolcott

I began planning my time abroad, really planning in a realistic way, at the end of my Spring 2017 semester. By the end of September I had narrowed down my search to a specific program. These past six months I've spent my time planning every detail of my abroad experience, and after all that time I am finally one night away from my departure date. And somehow, I am suddenly just realizing how many gaps are left in my plans.

For starters, I completely forgot to take the date line into account when planning flights, putting my arrival date only a few days before the start of classes. I registered for an international health insurance plan without checking to see if it was approved by my University, leaving me to switch to a new plan just days before the start of the semester. I hadn't looked into the kind of electronic converters I needed, or what kind of entertainment material would be necessary for the grueling plane ride; for these problems I can thank Amazon Prime for saving me a very frantic airport shopping trip. I put all my belongings and suitcases in a storage unit without fully calculating how much my two small remaining suitcases would hold (thank god for expandable zippers). Also, amid all my extravagant travel plans, my research into bungee jumping and camping trips to the mountains, I neglected to focus on one thing: my schoolwork. In the midst of all this planning, somewhere along the way my actual course load at the University of Auckland was pushed aside, leaving me to scramble to print syllabi and organize schedules at the last minute.

This whole ordeal has, at the very least, been quite a learning experience. My practical learnings range from how to open a bank account in another country, to how to calculate voltage conversion, to how to contact a foreign embassy. However, it is the rather impractical that I enjoy the most: the fact that New Zealanders call flip flops "jandals" (which I first thought was some kind of denim sandal), and the correct way to say goodbye in Maori, "Nga mihi", pronounced (Nah-mihee).

...continue reading "The Final Stretch"