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Dragon Float

안녕하세요 (hello)! Week 12 in Korea and I am starting to realize that I have 5 weeks left in my study abroad journey. The highlights of this week included KUBA dinner, Hongdae, a traditional Korean music concert, and the lantern festival.  Before I talk about my week, let me divulge into some facts about Korean beauty culture.

The Korean people are obsessed with keeping up their cosmetic appearances. There is not a single block around or inside Korea University that does not have some variation of skin or makeup stores. The sinks in the bathrooms are often crowded at all school hours by girls brushing their teeth, often causing a blockade of the sinks. There are contest to see who can talk in a higher pitched voice because it is considered cute. Plastic surgery is a very big part of the culture here as well. Double eyelids are seen as the beauty standard and people often get their eyelids done as a gift for high-school graduation. In Gangam-gu I counted about 27 different plastic surgery clinics within a ten minute walk. There is one beauty standard for women to have similar hair, noses,  big eyes, small chins, and general cosmetics as everyone else. It is actually quiet shocking to see people striving to all be the same. I personally have accepted it but not too many people realize how intense it actually is.

Anyways, back to talking about what I have accomplished this week. This week was very busy due to school and an exam. However, my first fun point was the KUBA dinner. KUBA buddy dinners are always fantastic because it gives international students the opportunity to try something that they may never have realized was on the menu. This Thursday we went slightly beyond the traditional Korean food and tried Chinese food. We had fried chicken and green peppers, while sitting cross-legged on the floor and enjoying each other’s company. Afterwards we got to go to a soju food place and then the always lively Hondae, near the Honjik Women’s University. Hongdae is a party  scene were many ex-pats go and we ended up at a place called Zen Bar. The following day I went to a traditional Korean music concert that my KUBA buddy directed. The instruments used were different than the ones I was used to seeing. If I were to describe them they looked like floor harps, single-stringed violins, wooden flutes, and a trumpet-esque horn that sounded like a bagpipe. My KUBA buddy played the Ajaeng, which is what looked like a floor harp to me. The music sounded like traditional Chinese music and like what would be played on an old-time Korean march to war. The performers were dressed in traditional Korean attire up to the last song, when they changed into modern clothing to reflect the style of the piece they were playing. Overall, it was an interesting experience and afterwards we went out for Dak Galbi (spicy chicken).

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Lanterns at a Temple

Today was the Lantern festival in Korea. The Lantern Festival is an important ritual in Buddhism that pays respect to Buddha for Buddha’s birthday. After seeing the Buddha’s of Thailand and Hong Kong, it was interesting to see how the Korean depictions compared. So around 4pm my friends and I decided to go to Insadong and see what it was all about. I have never seen such a wide variety of lantern design or that many tourists at one time in Seoul. We went through a Buddhist temple and the entire ceiling was adorned with lanterns. After we explored the temple we saw the parade, which was my favorite part. The floats were really cool and colorful. Especially this one fire breathing dragon. The end of the festival for us was gathering near the Gyeoungbokgung Palace to listen to a Buddhist monk speak.

Overall, this week was very work oriented. However I did enjoy the concert and Lantern festival the best. This upcoming week I am preparing to go to Tokyo, Japan for 5 days so stick around for some more awesome adventures! 안녕(goodbye)!

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 kaandle

While I'm sure there are many stereotypes of Americans in Germany - loud, in a rush, rude - two stand out above the rest.  First and foremost, our desire for small talk and discomfort with silence are duly noted by the German population.  They prefer stoic silence over meaningless conversation.  "Nice weather we're having, isn't it?" is unsuitable for elevator rides with strangers. However, with this being said it is important to note the U.S. sided stereotype - Germans are a hard and unsocial people - is very untrue.  The value is on meaningful conversation. Quality over quantity kind of thing.  Talking for talking's sake is uncommon, and quite honestly, refreshing.  There is no need to fill silences and pauses to gather your thoughts before speaking aren't immediately filled with another comment to keep the conversation flowing.

The second is a bit more difficult to define.  Throughout the past month, especially when traveling to other German cities like Dresden or Hamburg, the common response from a local after saying we're from the States is "why are you here?" This is not an inquiry about what we are studying or if it was the culture that enticed us.  Instead it is a surprised statement with a hint of disdain.  At the moment I am still uncertain if the surprise comes from an opinion that Americans are generally uninterested in Germany and therefore seeing people spend long periods of time within its borders is thought of as unusual or if they are utterly unaware of how interesting Germany can be.

Regardless of German expectations we are actively working past our cultural differences and misunderstandings.  The group's native German friend group is finally expanding past host parents and student assistants! It may take a little stepping out of our comfort zones, but bridging the gap between German and U.S. customs is an exciting adventure.

A bit of the match

“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.

By kennatim

IMG_4358There is a phrase the Irish are very fond of: “It will all be grand.” It basically the Irish answer to “Keep calm and carry on” or “Don’t worry, be happy.” One of our program directors has repeated this mantra to our group of 34 students repeatedly because many Irish customs are difficult to get used to. For example, classes start tomorrow and I am still unsure of what exactly I am taking. This is completely normal for Irish students, whereas in the U.S. I would have already purchased my overpriced textbooks two months ago. Something as simple as the realization that the school library is closed on Sundays can leave a study abroad student’s head spinning.

Aside from these minor bumps in the road, the first week has been remarkably exciting. Dublin City University is about a 20-minute bus ride from Dublin City Centre. My friends and I have taken every opportunity to go explore the city and I have felt like I have spent an eternity on the bus. It has not deterred me from having fun, as those bus rides are spent with good friends and, thankfully, free Wi-fi.

The beginning has mostly consisted of trips to the supermarket and mall, get situated, orientation sessions, and making friends. With 34 people in the program, it is interesting to consider the dynamics of friend groups made and changed. The highlight of my week was when I got a tap on the shoulder late one night in the city centre. I turned to find a face it took me a second to recognize. The day before, I had met a group of French exchange students trying to find a basketball to play with at the DCU gym. I joined them. Although our basketball search came up short, it was so funny to find my new friend about 45 minutes from campus. We exchanged Facebook information, and obviously had to take a photo.

One of the biggest challenges for me is just getting accustomed to the cultural differences. The only time I have really gotten homesick was when I was unable to find pretzels in two grocery stores. Getting lost in the city, committing cultural faux-pas (which I will discuss next week) and the academic differences are just a few of the challenges I have faced. I am eager to continue to learn about the city and get used to Irish customs. I cannot wait to feel like a local and be (hopefully) able to be a good tour guide in the city for visiting friends and family.

By Jess Yacovelle

One of the benefits of studying in the United Kingdom is that nearly everyone speaks English in London. Because of the shared language, being in a new city, in a new country, in a new culture doesn't feel quite so scary. Everything is tinted with a shade of home and familiarity that most foreign countries lack. Yet not everything about London is the same as the United States. In fact, there are some stark cultural differences - both good and bad - between the two areas.

For one thing, as I've previously mentioned, there are no trashcans anywhere in the UK! If you finish a cup of coffee, you could literally be carrying that empty cup for miles. There's probably one "rubbish bin" per five block radius, yet the streets are nearly spotless. They have a fraction of the cigarette butts and gum stains as most American cities do, and the nice areas of London have virtually no bits of trash anywhere. I don't know how they do it, but somehow they keep the streets clean without any trashcans.

Trashcans may not be on every block, but you know what is? Pret a Manger. Literally, it's on every block. It's a European staple that sells coffee, pre-made sandwiches, and baked goods. King's College, where I'm currently studying for the semester, is located directly between two different Pret a Mangers. You can't escape them; it's best to just give in.

The Brits also have no idea where to go. For no apparent reason, they became one of the only European countries to drive on the left. So, logically, you'd think that means they're a lefty country, right? They should walk on the left, stand on the left, move to the left... no. In fact, England can't make up its mind. On all of the escalators, you stand on the right. In some of the tube stations, you walk on the right... unless arbitrary signs tell you to walk on the left. You exit stations on the left, but you walk down the streets on the right. There are no hard and fast rules in regards to which side of the street pedestrians should stick to, and as a result, there are frequent human traffic jams.

Speaking of humans, British people are known to be cold and unfriendly, but this is not true. They have very specific social customs, and they do not like these customs to be broken. For example, they do not talk on the tube, and they glare at anyone who tries to strike up a conversation. The tube is a place of commute, not a place to socialize. Making conversation with strangers on the tube isn't proper.

Speaking of properness, it is considered improper to wear a skirt or dress without a pair of tights. On the first day of classes - back when the sun was shinning and it was 80 degrees outside - I could easily differentiate between the tourists and the natives by who wore tights with their skirts and who was bare-legged. No matter how hot it gets, no one in England has bare legs (unless they're gong to a club); it just isn't done.

Another thing different in regards to apparel is that at bars - pure bars, not sports bars - you must wear heels. I've had friends rejected and told to leave a bar because they were not wearing heels. I think it's because heels show respect for the establishment that you made an effort to dress in a classy manner. Regardless of why you do it, the reality is you need to do it.

These are just some of the differences between the culture of the United States and the culture of the United Kingdom, and as I continue to study abroad in London, I'm sure I'll find more.

By makenadingwell

la fotoImagine walking around D.C. on a sleepy, cloudy Sunday morning and turning down Pennsylvania Avenue to see, hear, and yes, smell thousands of sheep hustling down for blocks and blocks. You would be confused too, right?

No one warned me, but today was the Transhumance Fiesta, a day in which a handful of shepherds celebrate and utilize their right to droving routes that existed before Madrid became a sprawling metropolis. While the Ministry of Agriculture has only supported the official festival since 1994, the tradition has firm roots for centuries.

Many of the paths used by shepherds are over 800 years old. Incredibly, the path that goes through the heart of Madrid, Puerta del Sol, which was used today, is one from 1372. According to a local, the sheep come from the north, most recently Segovia, and head south for warmer weather.

My host mom told me that the shepherds bought the rights to the path with 25 maravedis, which were coins first used in the 11th century. Traditionally there were almost one million animals including sheep and cattle, however now its closer to four thousand of the native Merino sheep, which are a great source of pride to Spanish shepherds.

While an incredibly odd site, the tradition is truly astonishing. It distinctly highlights how traditions can be protected and cherished despite threats like urban expansion and agricultural modernization.

After seeing thousands of sheep descend upon Madrid, I am yet again reminded that I'm definitely not in D.C. anymore.

I’m definitely not in D.C. anymore.

By rosessupposes

One of the many attractions of studying abroad in Africa was the chance to experience life as a minority race. For the first time in my life, I’m living in a city where almost all the faces I pass are a different race than my own. When I look at the faces in the government, the same is true. Here in Dakar, I’m an anomaly, and I stick out.

That is an experience in itself. But the additional differences of how people relate to racial differences compared to the US are staggering. It is pointed out quite often that I’m a ‘toubab’, or a foreigner. According to my host father, this name comes from a word for ‘doctor’, referring to one of the first interactions the resident population had with the French. At one point it just referred to French expats, but it’s expanded to include all white foreigners. And yet, there is no malice in the label. It’s a statement of fact – I’m white, and look different. The same logic applies to students who are referred to as ‘chinois’ (used for anyone who appears to have East Asian ancestry), ‘arabe’ (not necessarily Arab, has included my friend of Indian heritage), or any other racial labels. The concept of having mixed-country racial identities seems to be difficult for folks here to grasp – the idea of ‘Indian-American’, ‘Chinese-American’, or ‘Mexican-American’ is very strange to a people who identify only with ‘Senegalese’, regardless of personal or family origin. Nevertheless, there remains no negative connotation to pointing out these differences in racial characteristics – it’s just a fact.

I had a long conversation about this with my host brother Papi about this. It was prompted by him asking about the events transpiring in Ferguson and St. Louis. With such a strong perception of America as a country of freedom and opportunity, he was completely baffled as to why there were American cops killing young black boys. And that’s a hard question, especially for me. While I have observed the continuing problem of racism in the US, and while I continuously try to educate myself on it, I will never have the intimate knowledge of a lived experience with it. But there are some elements that seem clear, especially in contrast with Dakar.

First and foremost – Papi knew, even as a non-American observer, that the conflict in Ferguson is inherently tied to racism and specifically anti-black racism. That fact is one that it seems a lot of white America has yet to fully grasp or accept. We can debate specific situational factors until the end of time, but the fact remains that there are too many instances of white cops shooting black young people, both young men and young women, who were unarmed and, by most all accounts, completely unthreatening at the time of their needless deaths.  Even if it is not said in so many words, these white cops continue to feel ‘threatened’ by the very presence of these young black people, and their response continues to be immediate escalation of violence.

I believe that this may be the biggest visible factor that plays into the enduring racism in the US – no one in positions of power want to admit that race still heavily influences their judgment, and in a negative way. No one wants to be called or shown to be a ‘racist’, even if all their thoughts (and actions) align with such a label. But even more so, none of these folks at the top of the privilege totem pole want to talk about race, and the fact that different races exist, and the fact that there are still so many institutional factors at work against those who are not white. And a lot of this is self-protecting: to admit that there is an imbalance of privilege is to admit that you, as a white person, receive some form of unfair opportunity that others, as non-white people, do not. And this means that the leaders in the Ferguson area don’t think or don’t want to think about the disparity between percentage of white folks in the population compared to in positions of power, and in the police force. This means that this disparity has persisted for years and years, and needed just one more act of senseless violence against a young high school graduate to spark massive backlash against an unjust system.

It becomes clearer and clearer the more time I spend in Senegal how messed up the American way of dealing with race is. Here, there are many separate ethnic groups (Wolof, Poullar, and Serre, to name the biggest). They have different traditions and languages. They have very recognizable last names that belong to each group. It would be very easy for this to create tension or even violence between groups, if they purposefully ‘othered’ those who were not in their specific group. But instead, the opposite happens. They have a relationship called ‘joking cousins’ between specific groups and last names. When opposing groups meet and exchange family names, they’ll go off on stereotypes about that family – “oh, you’re a Dioup, I don’t want to eat dinner with you, you’ll be greedy!” or “Oh you’re a Ndiaye – haha, I own you! You have to obey me!” Any tension that could exist between the clearly divided in-groups and out-groups is smoothed over and eliminated by universal jokes that everyone knows are not personal, and are reciprocal. I fully believe that these animosities remain so calm because the differences are acknowledged as existing, and simultaneously acknowledged as inconsequential.

Being a minority race in Senegal definitely is a weird feeling, and at times can be scary. But yet, I know that it can never compare to the feeling of being a minority in the United States. I cannot purport to know how to magically solve the racism problem back home, and as a white person, it’s not my place to lead the discussion. But what I do know is that having that discussion is essential. Taking a page out of the Senegalese book, to acknowledge and discuss our racial differences, might just be a way to reach a similar level of comfort, humor, and nonviolent in the relations between races.

By Hannah Radner

From the moment I knew I wanted to study in London I have imposed judgment on myself; judgment for choosing a country whose official language is English when I have studied French since the sixth grade. For a while assumed I would go to France to study abroad. Judgment for choosing a capital city not unlike the one I study in at home (they are more similar in nature though vastly different in size). Judgment for choosing a university that, in the grand scheme of things, is not worlds away from GW. There was always a voice in my head that tried to make me doubt myself, telling me that in order to make a study abroad experience worthwhile, I had to make things as difficult for myself as humanly possible and go to a place where I would actually get a healthy dose of culture shock. Obviously it didn't work, because LSE was the only program I applied to and really wanted to do, and now that I am here I am a. glad I went through with it and b. void of regret. As it turns out, while it is a first world city (arguably the most first world city in the history of first world cities), London can still dish out some culture shock in the form of "Things I Take for Granted at Home and No Longer Will" and "Things the USA Should Have But Seemed to Have Gotten Lost in the Shuffle of the American Revolution."

Things I Take for Granted at Home and No Longer Will:
1. Uncomplicated Traffic Patterns. I walk everywhere I need to go within a certain radius. It becomes clear on day one that pedestrians do not have the right of way while walking in the crosswalk. Jaywalking? Don't even think about it. They drive fast enough even in the most congested parts of the city that nothing will save you if you get in the way of a vehicle. This includes cyclists. They often have their own lanes (if not, they have to share with the buses, which I suppose shows that they don't really care about the cyclists' lives either) Wait for the walk signal or die, basically.

2. Clean Air. I'm not talking about the city pollution levels. I'm talking about cigarette smoke. This year abroad is going to take a chunk out of my lifespan because of all the secondhand smoke. Everyone does it. Take a random sample of Londoners in any area and I'd say at least 80% of them are smoking or will probably light up in the next five minutes. I will only ever tolerate (barely) the smoking culture here.

3. Easy Public Transport. Boston's system is easy, especially for me: I get on at Riverside and I take the D line into Park Street, Government Center or Haymarket. Then I stay put or walk where I need to go, as nothing is really that far away. Boston is small. DC's system is even easier. 5 lines, clearly mapped out, I know where I need to go. If you really put your mind to it and you have enough time, patience and energy, really anything in DC is walking distance. London is a behemoth. The Tube map, though not necessarily difficult to understand, reflects how expansive the city is. There are a lot of buses that go to a lot of different places and only run at certain times and then you have your night buses and buses with 24-hour service and some only come every 20-30 minutes. How am I getting home? Do I take this bus or that bus? The tube? Do I have enough cash for a cab? Does London have a Cash Cab? Whatever happened to that show? Whatever happened to that guy? Was that my bus that just went by?? UGH.

Things the USA Should Have But Seemed to Have Gotten Lost in the Shuffle of the American Revolution:
1. Real Honest-to-God Bicycle Lanes that keep Cyclists in Check. If I had a dollar for every time I have almost been hit by a cyclist who doesn't obey traffic laws in DC, I'd have enough money to buy myself a nice bike and use it the right way.

2. Food Compost. I'm a hippie and I think composting is great. At least in LSE buildings, they have multiple separate waste receptacles: brown for food scraps (yay compost!! feed the worms! make new dirt!), green for mixed recycling (with a separate little thing in which you may pour out your liquids), and black for general non-recyclable, non-compostable waste. My kitchen came with three recycling bins, one general trash bin, and a little caddy for food waste.

3. WiFi Everywhere. It is difficult to go somewhere London and not find a place that has some sort of free WiFi. I am on the O2 cellular network, so I have access to all O2 hotspots. There is a network called The Cloud, which is not great for surfing the web but useful when trying to get in contact with friends. My campus has eduroam, a fact I was delighted to learn because I can log into the secure network using my GW info - yes, it's here, and it works. It is near impossible to find free, functional WiFi in DC. Thank goodness we have it here so I can write my blog posts beyond the confines of my bedroom if I so chose.

By Jess Yacovelle

I've been living in the UK for about a month now, and some stark differences between my host country and the US have started to pop out at me. Here are 5 major differences between living in the United States and living in London.

1) There are no trashcans anywhere. I was in King's Cross train station earlier this week, carrying around an empty coffee cup for over an hour because I couldn't find a trashcan. And the surprising thing is that the London streets and businesses are all incredibly clean. Unlike in the US, there's hardly any trash on the floor, and there's certainly no gum glued to the cement. But how on earth do they keep the city streets so clean without any trashcans?

2) It rains a lot. Everyone knew this already; it's one of England's stereotypes. What you didn't know is that though it may rain 4 out of 5 days a week in London, it will only rain for an hour or two at a time. I've been here for over a month now, and I still haven't experienced a long rainstorm like we get in DC. The endless days of rain just don't happen.

3) The London subway system rules. Sorry DC, but your metro has nothing on London's public transit. Most working people in London take the subway - or the "tube" - to commute every morning to their jobs, so the underground system in London has to run quickly and efficiently. Trains arrive every couple of minutes, so it's never the end of the world if you miss one. Even better, your underground ticket or pass will also work in the London bus system. You can literally get anywhere in London via their public transit.

4) People generally keep to themselves. It's very rare in London to see strangers start talking to each other on the subway or while in line. Unlike in DC (and within the US in general), people don't feel obligated to make small talk with strangers. That's not to say that Londoners aren't friendly, though; far from it. If you're lost and you ask for help, people will kindly give directions - they just won't chat with you about the weather.

5) Travel is really, really easy. There are trains, buses, and planes leaving from London and going to literally anywhere in Europe multiple times a day. You can take a bus to Cardiff, a train to Edinburgh, and then a plane to Paris all in the same weekend if you so desire. The opportunities to travel are so vast that it almost feels like a waste not to go.