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By Nora_Wolcott

This week was my last week of classes, leading up to a month-long exam break, during which I only have three exams. Preparing for a good deal of free time, I decided to kick off this month by doing the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a gruelling 4-day hike spanning almost 50km and rising almost 2,000m in elevation. The track promised spectacular views of the Northern volcanic landscape, and I was thrilled to be going with a large group of avid young trampers like myself. I had attempted to do the shorter version of this hike at the beginning of the month, then again the previous week, each time having my plans cancelled due to the highly changeable alpine weather. As luck would have it, it was the day before the hike was set to begin that I got the news: there had been an avalanche warning on the mountain, meaning that our trip had to be cancelled. This was consequently not the first, or the second, but the third time I had tried and failed to complete this tramp, and left me with a solid four day gap in my otherwise thoroughly planned schedule. So, disappointed but determined to make the best of the situation, I went about planning four days of activity in Auckland.

Since, at this point, I have spent a fair amount of time in Auckland, I sometimes settle into the mindset that I have to travel somewhere else to do something interesting. This past weekend has entirely disproved that theory, with my real introduction to underground Auckland. The city is such an international hub, home to the only international airport in the country and eternally bustling with tourists like myself, that it can take some work to get to the heart of the people that really define the area. Over the weekend I ate at small Kiwi-owned bistros, shopped around local craftsmen shops, and explored neglected boroughs. However, a breakthrough moment for me in my endeavor to really know the city happened when i discovered Auckland's underground theatre scene. Looking for something to do on a Saturday night, branching out from our usual pub spots, my friend suggested to me that we try and see a play. As it happened, that night was the closing night of "Cult Show", a breakout feminist manifesto at The Basement Theatre. The venue was a blackbox theatre space inside a bar, filled with the tattooed, pierced, bearded millenial crowd baby boomers love to mock. I felt right at home.

The play itself was the kind of avante-guard contemporary work that I love, making men out of fruit and throwing water at the audience, all the while engaging in a real, thought-provoking dialogue about modern feminism. Because Cult Show was produced by the theatre, it was a real New Zealand play, taking a deep dive into the NZ Women's Archives and introducing me to historical women I'd never heard of before. I was really intrigued by the debates on Maori oppression, the closest New Zealand parallel to the struggle of African American women towards intersectional feminism, something I'd barely heard discussed in the touristy museums I'd been visiting. It did what good theatre should do, challenge the viewer, and left me really questioning the history of this country I'd been readily accepting. Ultimately, the underground theatre scene of Auckland yielded a better look at Kiwi culture than all the museums claiming to do just that, proving that it takes more than a few months to truly understand the character of a city.

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland! The past three days I have spent taking in the rolling hills, the blooming flowers of early spring, and riding bikes in Phoenix Park with family and friends. While I could give you recommendations of where to stay and stuff your face, Dublin is a rather small town, so it is best to wander around and find those for yourself. For the next week and a half I will be traveling to Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria - mostly just to travel, but some for class. In case you forgot (I tend to forget I am still a student too), I have class 5 days out of the week, but for this week my Swiss Alps Ecosystem class will be traveling to the Swiss Alps to analyze tree cores, identify both native and invasive trees, and to measure the human impact on the ecosystem for the past century. Did I mention that I will not be in the same country for more than 3 days and still have a final report and exam?

It recently occurred to me that because I plan these outrageously packed weeks, I have developed - and dare I say perfected - a rather comprehensive rule book for packing and basic travel. I thought I would share a few of my more basic rules as I have learned through experience that it is always better to be prepared. So here it is -

  1. Always - I mean ALWAYS - pack a swimsuit and running shoes.

I must admit that I stole this rule from my Aunt as she has forever emphasized the necessity of a swimsuit and running shoes. While it may seem absolutely psychotic to bring a swimsuit to say the Swiss Alps, you truly never know what is available. Most airports have a connecting - or at least nearby - hotel that allow you to use the gym and pool. If your flight is severely delayed or just have a ridiculously long layover and find yourself with 6 hours and nothing to do, you can easily go swim laps or run to pass the time. Even if on the very off chance the hotel does not offer this service, you can buy the cheapest service and I guarantee you both pool and gym access will be included. In addition, you never know what is available at your final destination. What happens if you are in the Alps and stumble upon a traditional sauna or find a group leading a sunrise hike? You’ll wish you had a swimsuit and running shoes. ...continue reading "Snippets from My Travel Rule Book"

By maxleo43

It’s funny; I remember thinking about China before I left and wondering what the society would be like. Would the communist government’s rule of law keep everyone in check? Would I have to be worried about accidentally committing a crime because of obtuse laws?

I arrived and found nothing of the sort. While China, and Shanghai, have many of the same laws as the U.S. that govern day to day life, there is still a lot of freedom and lee-way. For example, it is pretty much acceptable to ride a bicycle anywhere. The bike lane, sidewalk, and even a busy road are all allowable places to ride a bicycle. While this may seem rather minimal, there is something pretty fantastic about riding a bike down a main road in Shanghai and passing luxury sports cars.

This sense of freedom has pretty fully inhabited my life while here in Shanghai. I have class three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, but I get out of class at noon on Wednesday and don’t start until 1:30 on Thursday. This leaves me with a four-day weekend and a lot of time to explore. On any given day, I can wake up, ride an OFO bike to the metro, hop on and end up in any part of the city. I can spend the day searching for the best dumplings in Shanghai, studying at a café in the French Concession, exploring the location where the Chinese Communist Party was founded, or getting my hair dyed blonde (I did this yesterday). ...continue reading "Freedom"

By eevenden

Hello everyone!

As promised, here is a continuation of my blog form last week about my trip to Germany. On Monday, I took the train from Frankfurt to Munich as I progressed through Bavaria. Upon arrival, I was immediately impressed by bustle and diversity of the city and its inhabitants. After checking into my hostel, I immediately went to explore the old, picturesque city-center.

Monday (April 23rd)

For the rest of Monday, my primary goal was to walk-around and see some of the popular sights of Munich. What really impressed me was the architecture of the city. It seemed like around every corner there was a new grand cathedral or theater. What I really enjoyed, which I guess is not available in Reykjavik, was the energy of the crowds walking around. Over 70 degrees F, it was like a warm summer’s night in the city. I ended the evening with a pretzel, happy to be in Munich.

Marienplatz in Munich, built in 1158


Viktualienmarkt, a 200 year old open-air market


Shops with Theatine Church in the background.

Tuesday (April 24th)

Before coming here, I had consulted one of my friends in Iceland (who is from Munich) about what I should do while in the area. I asked him for some hiking recommendations since I wanted to take advantage of warmth and nature. He gave me several recommendations for some closer and further away hikes. Since I had three days in Munich, I decided to do two of them.

On Tuesday I did a shorter hike since I was going to meet Dagmar’s brother for dinner in the city. This hike (I believe its called the Five Lakes Trail) was just outside of Munich, in a town called Herrsching, and climbed a forested hill to a monastery called Kloster Andechs. The monastery is both old and beautiful and today is famous for brewing beer. Honestly, it was a bit confusing trying to find the trail initially since it starts in a town. But eventually the streets thinned and forest took over. Over the course of three hours, I walked from town to woods to monastery to lake (luckily able to follow signs instead of checking my phone every 10 minutes). Overall it was a very good day with excellent weather.

I returned to Munich with the commuter train, and after washing up, met Dagmar’s brother for dinner. We went to an Italian restaurant near his neighborhood in Munich. It was an excellent meal with interesting conversation.

On the trail in just outside Herrsching


The chapel of Kloster Andechs


Ammersee, the lake which border the end of the trail.

Wednesday (April 25th)

Wednesday was my big hiking day. Since I was in Bavaria, I couldn’t resist doing a trip south to the Alps region. At the recommendation of my friend, I decided to do a long hike in the ‘Pre-Alps” (the “foothills of the Alps”) near a lake called Walchensee. To get there, I took the earliest regional train I could from the Munich Central Station at 6am Kochel. From there, I took the bus to the trail-head. I made sure to pack lots of food and 5 liters of water for the journey since online it had said the trail would take at least 7 hours. The loop started from the base of mountain ridge that consists of several peaks including Heimgarten and Herzongstand, which reach over 1790 m in altitude (about 5,900 feet). This was both the first hike I have done by myself and the hardest hike I’ve ever done, so it was certainly going to be a challenge. However, I was never really alone. There were tons of very athletic retirees there too. You can follow my progress in the photos below.

I was very, very happy I decided to do this hike. The mountains were absolutely stunning and I really felt accomplished when I got back down. (The first thing I did was buy an ice cream and some French fries at the bottom). Afterwards, I took the bus and train back to Munich and was pleasantly surprised that everything went smoothly. Then I basically went to bed right afterwards.

The base of the trail


2/3 of the way up


View from Heimgarten


Me at the Heimgarten summit, after about 3 hours of walking uphill.


The trail continues to the next peak, Herzogstand.


Walking along the ridge felt like walking through a desert since there was nothing to protect you from the sun. After about 2 hours, I reached the next peak.


The view from Herzogstand


Slowly descending. Hiking back down probably took the longest since my knees were aching by then.

Thursday (April 26th)

On my final day in Munich, I obviously planned to take it a bit easy after the hike. I started the day by going to a vegan café that my friend suggested. I’m not vegan, but at least if I can’t figure out the menu, I know it’s all vegetarian. I had some really nice scrambled tofu and cherry tomatoes. For my main activity, however, I decided to go to the Deutsche Museum, a museum of science and technology, at Dagmar’s suggestion. It was quite unlike any museum I have been to in the US because it focused on engineering history. I only made it to 6 exhibits (of perhaps 20 or 30), in the 3 hours I was there. I learned about metallurgy and different casting methods, power machines, alternative energy, and last but not least cartography! They had a whole exhibit dedicated to geography which was cool for me. Since I didn’t get to go through the entire museum, I bought a really big book about its different exhibits at the end, as well as a book about nanotechnology. Afterwards, it was time to head to the airport and fly back to Reykjavik!

The Deutsche Museum, a museum focused on science and technology


The Mapping and Remote Sensing Exhibit in the Deutsche Museum.


In the end, my trip to Munich was very busy and fun! I am really happy I decided to take Dagmar’s advice and go!

I believe next week will be my final blog post, as my time here in Iceland wraps up. I will probably ask to push it back another week or two because then I am going on my glacial geology fieldwork trip and will have something more interesting than final exams to talk about.


By Teniola Balogun

A couple weeks ago, I took a weekend trip with my friends to Cape Town. It was such an amazing experience that I am very grateful for. After a 5-hour car ride to Johannesburg, we finally boarded our flight from Joburg to CPT (it was way cheaper this way).  We had just endured a long week of midterms, so no plans were made for this excursion. Which was okay, because CPT has so much to offer. The city is very westernized which really caused me to experience reverse culture shock. At times, I felt like I driving around the Bay Area of California.

Once the plan was made, the agenda for the week included hiking, Robben Island, museums, markets, food, and music. CPT is a very big city so it’s really impossible to see absolutely everything. Which was a really hard conclusion to come to. Luckily, our accommodation was located right outside the city center. We stayed in Bo-Kaap, which is a touristy area of CPT. It is a religious neighborhood that is filled with streets of colorful houses. At times, we would see tourists stopping to take pictures outside of our place. The strip of colorful houses made it a picturesque spot to watch the sun rise and set. Another benefit of our location in CPT was Table Mountain lurking in the back. It was literally right outside of our place. After endless trips to food and art markets, museums, hiking Table Mountain and live music, we were differently ready to head back home.

CPT was such a weird change from Gabs. The entire time I felt like a tourist who thought I had turned up in California and not Cape Town. Little to my knowledge, Cape Town has a pretty dark history involving Apartheid (something they do not teach you in history class). It felt weird for it to be that westernized. It made me very appreciative of my choice to study abroad in Gabs. The culture that I have experienced in Gabs, I could not experience in CPT. I felt like I was still in America doing the exact same things (going to artsy coffee shops and visiting fancy modern art galleries). For me the whole purpose of study abroad, it to experience a culture different from your own or at least a culture that you would probably never get the chance to experience. I loved my time in Cape Town. It is definitely a place I hope to visit again though.

I'm not gonna front, before I came to Nepal, I was worried about what it meant to experience poverty. I came with a lot of misconceptions of what it means to live in a country that was deemed poor by outsiders. And sure enough, the first day was a shocking experience. I came off the plane with hundreds of people swarming luggage claim and taxi drivers trying to get anyone to get into their car. But my time in Nepal has taught me that poverty is only a concept. Just because someone makes a certain amount of money, we label them in categories to describe their happiness and self-worth. In reality, poverty is only what we make of it. Yes, my host families in Nepal and India may be, by a definition, poor, but that does not mean that they are deprived of something. In fact, they are happier than most people I know back home. Just from the glimpse of their lives that they have shared with me, their lives are never packing anything. There's always three square meals, things to do, and lots of love to be distributed. So many times in my life, I've equated money and the amount of material things I have ownership over to happiness. Somehow the less I had meant I would be less happy.

It’s been eye opening to see how people across the world live their lives. One that is filled with joy and love and not lacking in any sense. Humans are incredibly resilient, they make due with they lives, and find ways to live abundantly with whatever they have. It really puts things into perspective. I have been thinking a lot about my return to the United States, the life I live and the meaning of the things I own. This experience has helped me realize how my life is lived in measurements of what I need rather than what I have. It’s hard to unlearn what I have been socialized to prioritize, but it’s a lesson that I’m grateful to have learned.


Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting my parents and sister in Paris. Amongst the long list of tourist attractions and miles that we walked over eight short days, the most interesting of the bunch was certainly the reunion with my distant French relatives.

Family is an interesting concept to me because you can fiercely define it in so many different ways. Some people say that family is through blood, but then others feel closer to those with whom they are not biologically linked.

Over the course of my time in Paris, I have come to consider my host family as a true family in its own right: we may not share the same genetics or sometimes even the same language, but we care for one another and we feel comfortable. What more do you need?

Some say that my passion for the French language and culture is derived from my family history: my great-grandfather and namesake Maurice was French and a Parisian in the twentieth century. Not much is known about my family's connection to France, except that we have two living relatives in the heart of Paris. My parents arrival gave me the courage to finally reach out and to establish a relation with them.

...continue reading "La Famille"

I have always been fascinated by education. In America, it is not only looked upon as a necessary service, it is required by law. American Children must be educated, at least until they are 16 (around 10 or 11 years of required schooling). The majority of millennials or younger have or will receive a high school diploma, and around 40% will continue on to receive a bachelor’s diploma. In many communities, it is the norm to continue on to college after high school. Since being in China, I have realized that education is not looked upon in the same way.

While it is compulsory in China to go to school for 9 years (only 1 or 2 less years than in America), traditional education is very different than western education. The Chinese education system is very much based on memorization. Critical thinking skills are widely skipped over in favor of regurgitation of facts. Students in China will all partake in this type of education up until high school, at which point they have to choose to either attempt to go to college in China or choose to attempt to go internationally. If they choose China, then they will spend 3 years studying for the Gaokao, the Chinese university entrance exam. The test is extremely difficult and almost completely determines which colleges you get into. If they choose to go internationally, then they will either go to a private school or the international version of a public school. These schools will have either AP or IB curriculum and teach students in a similar way to the American education system. This past week, I got to visit several of these international public and private schools to meet students.

On Monday, I visited three schools for Chinese national students. All three offered an international curriculum, either AP, IB or both, and were preparing to send students abroad for their college education. Many of the teachers were American or Canadian and instruction was completely in English (with the exception of language classes). Despite this international curriculum with a focus on critical thinking and creativity, there was still a big push for STEM and memorization heavy subjects. For example, one of the college counselors was telling me about a parent who had told her that her daughter was interesting in studying art in college. Instead of encouraging this, the college counselor suggested that she study engineering and go into the artificial intelligence field. Despite the excellent education that students at this school were receiving, they are still only given a limited number options when it comes to choosing a field of study in college.

...continue reading "Education in China"

As a rising senior, I am about to embark on the wild journey that is apartment hunting. However, for many Singaporean residents, apartment hunting does not begin until after their marriage or in their late 20s. Due to scarce land and an ever declining birth date, the Singaporean government has taken several measures that make single people under the age of 35 to go through a lot of difficulties to get their own house. Furthermore, families are given preferences for housing over unmarried buyers. So, how has housing changed in Singapore? What does it look like now? Has it impacted the average Singaporean!? This blog tries to answer these questions.

History of Housing in Singapore

After World World War II, most residents of Singapore lived in Kampongs i.e. villages. Extended families lived under the same roof and most houses were traditional “Attap houses” made of Attap palm. However, these houses were very prone to fire. When the People’s Action Party came to power in the 1950s, they began to modernize Singapore. Urbanization and modernization became even more important once Singapore became independent. Without no natural resources and limited land, the pragmatic state had to start relying on developing Singapore’s manufacturing and services sector! It had another important work to do, inculcate nationalism amongst its diverse yet fragmented population, which had been segregated from each other on the basis of ethnicity, religion, clan associations etc. One way to do so was through housing!

Today, a majority of the Singaporeans live in tall high rises. The shifting of people from kampongs to urban planned townships began in the 1960s and continued into the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I visited the housing estate in the quaint Tiong Bahru area, which was built in the 1920s and 30s and is characterized by its unique architecture, a change from modern Singapore's high rise apartments.   ...continue reading "Housing in Singapore!"

It's that time of the semester again. After four months of doing the bare minimum amount of work, students hustle to cram four months of knowledge in their brains during finals seasons. This universally dreaded season, that lasts from April 28th to May 12th this year, is not too much different at NUS as it is at GW. One key similarity is that every study space is jam packed with students reading class textbooks for the first time or reviewing online lectures for classes they barely attended.

To find out your exam date, you have to go to NUS's equivalent of Blackboard called IVLE. Each course has its final exam date listed in the course page. It's really helpful to know when your final exam dates are so you can plan trips and the flight back home easier. This semester, my exams are on April 30th, May 2nd, and May 9th. Additionally, I recently had an unofficial final exam for my Public Health in Action class. Perhaps its just my classes, but I have found that a lot of classes at NUS offer open note exams. I was allowed any soft copy material for my public health exam and will be allowed any hard copy materials for my Global Economic Dimensions of Singapore class. The exam formats are very similar to those at GW: open response essays, multiple choice, and short answer. However, some exams are conducted online on an application called Examplify. Moreover, the exams are worth a greater percentage of the overall grade for the class. With 40% of the grade being class participation, my public health exam is worth an outstanding 60% of my grade!

Like GW, NUS also has a designated reading period for students; however, NUS's reading period is one week long whereas GW's reading period lasts one or two days. While most local students spend that time preparing and reviewing for exams, exchange students use it to make their last few trips to other countries. Many of my friends are going to China, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and even the UK! I, myself, will be spending three days in Bali, Indonesia. While many of my friends are spending the entire week abroad (while abroad), I have decided to actually use some of the reading week for its actual purpose. I also hope to make a solo trip around Singapore itself during one the reading days. ...continue reading "Finals, Family, and Feelings"