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By desansky0826

IMG_6959안녕하세요 (Hello)! Week 6 in Korea was full of surprises. First of all, my boyfriend, Jacob, decided to use the money he has been saving to come and visit me in Seoul! Secondly, Sabrina, Jesse, and I had our first exam at Korea University. Thirdly, membership training round 2!

Jacob came on Tuesday, March 24, and is visiting for two weeks! I am so happy because we are essentially reliving all the touristy fun of Seoul for the second time around! He is staying at Crimson House, where Mike and John live, and the price is about 25,000W a night. This turned out to be a better deal than the hostel in Anam, Anam Hostel, which was 24,000W a night. The room in the hostel was the size of a closet and the room in Crimson, also the size of a closet, but definitely more suitable for living. The first thing we did when he came to Korea was take him to have Korean BBQ. Watching Jacob use chopsticks without struggle reminded me of my initial struggle. The rule with chopsticks here in Korea is that you cannot cross them because then they just don’t pick up food efficiently. The second rule with chopsticks is that you do not stick them into the rice and leave them there. This second rule reminds Korean people of the incense sticks that people use at funerals. Instead you place the chopsticks neatly across your bowl when done. Another custom, on the topic of Korean customs, is that when referring to an older Korean boy from a younger girl standpoint you call them “Opa,” and from the standpoint of a younger boy to an older girl you say “Nuna.” Older boys like to be called “Opa” and older girls like to be called “Nuna.” My language exchange buddy told me this and thus, since I am 5 months older than Jacob, he must now call me “Nuna.”image2 (3)

On Jake’s second day in Korea, after my exam, we went to Insadong and tried squid on a pan with Mike and John. Afterwards, we got street food, Hotteok. Jake really took a liking to the food, and he and I have been going to various street markets from there on out trying weird, new foods. We went to Dwangjang market, Insadong, and Myeondong. Throughout our trek through Korean food markets, we tried dumplings, fried fish, dried fish, Soju, Makkoli, fruit juice mystery meat on a stick, squid on a stick, waffles, crepes, and honey ice cream. A Korean man next to us smiled and approved when he saw that we were enjoying Soju with our meal. Within that three day period with Jacob, I probably tried all of the street food in Korea and I am proud of it. If my sister Yanina was here with me I know that she would appreciate doing this as well. Those three days in Korea reminded me of my trips to New York to visit her, when we would just try new foods. Since I go to school Monday to Thursday, Jake does a lot of his own exploring and homework during the day.

Let me turn now to the topic of school. Sabrina, Jesse, and I had our first exam at Korea University. The exam was for Electronic Circuits and the class average was a 67.5%. My goal for school was to do better than at least half of the Korean students, and so far, I can say mission accomplished. My most boring class is Signals and Systems. The homework load here has been big for the biomedical engineers, but we finally have a week off. This is already too much about school, so I shall switch my topic to something more fun: Membership Training round 2!

image1 (3)I made up my mind and decided to take Jacob to experience membership training with Mike and Alissa’s KUBA group. John, Mike, Jesse, Alissa, Jake, Jesper our friend from Denmark, and I had planned to go to at least one membership training together. This membership training took place close to the university and was only a thirty-minute, bumpy bus ride away. The house was a one-story house, near a small creek. The floors were not heated like my Group 5 membership training. The night consisted of Korean BBQ, Soju and Karaoke. Alissa, Jesse, Jake, and I came later than Jesper, John, and Mike, yet we did not miss any of the festivities. We ate BBQ then went right into teaching the Koreans beer pong. At first it was easy to make a mistake, but eventually they became better players than I am. The night got even better from there. We played many games of Charades and Karaoked until we could not sing another word.

Other fun things, I did this week included making a mug with Alissa and Michael’s KUBA buddies, Jay and HwiiHwa. My name (Sasha) is spelled like this in Korean 사샤. Apparently, I spelled my name wrong on my mug and wrote what sounds like SaSa, but a week later, Michael, who has been taking Korean here in Korea, corrected me. Now I know. Anyways.. 안녕 (Goodbye)!!!

By makenadingwell

My birthday always falls during finals week. Usually by the time the day comes, some friends have gone home and some have locked themselves away in a library, fighting off Facebook and other temptations. However here I face a different set of obstacles. Everyone is still in Madrid, but it’s the beginning of our last week, finals are just beginning, and I’m turning 21 abroad.

However, this day can be filed under ‘why homestays are the best.’ I woke up early and received messages from caffeinated friends in the U.S., still awake and studying in Gelman library. Shortly after breakfast my host mom woke up and greeted me with a little gift. “¡Feliz cumple!” It was simple silver and leather wrap bracelet and was such a lovely surprise.

For lunch, my host mom cooked her famous paella, accompanied by morcilla, toast with tomatoes, and delicious sangria for two of my friends and me. The night before I went to dinner with a group which encompassed a magnitude of mojitos and tapas and dim lighting. Despite being so far away, my birthday this year was probably the coziest I’ve had in years. Later in the afternoon I went on a walk, despite the cold and drizzly weather, with a cappuccino in one hand, and an umbrella in the other. After drifting in and out of a couple stores, most notably a Real Madrid store, I bartered with a family of florists to buy a bouquet of flowers to bring back to my host mom.

Even though the directors forgot about my birthday, this weekend highlights the benefits of a homestay and the kindness of the family you have abroad. Whenever my friends and I spend time together, we always chat about our host families and their antics. I know all about the architect dad and his rambunctious sons, the mom and her cool CD and teapot collections, the host brother and his nameless band, and the housekeeper with her teething toddler. At the end of the day, we all go back home to our families, chatting away in Spanish, about our friends and our city adventures. I’ve learned Spanish words for clumsy, cheesy, and such, all because of my friends and their host families and I wouldn’t have it, or my birthday, any other way.

By makenadingwell

image (9)Growing up in England, thanksgiving was never a big holiday. Although I’ve lived in the U.S. for years now, I’ve given the holiday little thought every year, and even went to Canada to eat curry and nachos with my friends last year instead of binging on turkey. However, after spending the day with Americans abroad and hearing frequent nostalgic mentions of family traditions, I’ve come to realize how important and seemingly irreplaceable cuisine can be in respective cultural customs.

In Spain, there are many gastronomical habits that both follow and oppose stereotypes, solely judging from my homestay meals. There is a very generous amount of ham in meals, but I had no clue Spain consumed the largest quantity of fish per person in Europe. People occasionally drink sangria, but there’s much more beer and wine and even vermouth. Chorizo is popular, but morcilla (blood sausage) is sometimes better. My host mom hates gazpacho, loves lentil soup, and snacks on sunflower seeds while watching movies. I have paella often, but my favorite is black squid paella, which as it sounds, is dark, tangy, and can include a variety of calamari.image (10)

In reality, the most common and easy to make Spanish dish is the Spanish tortilla, which is actually a thick omelette with potato, and is not something you can wrap a burrito in. This was particularly confusing the first week since a French tortilla is a plain omelette. And while most of us miss peanut butter, I have found that plenty of nut-centric desserts that pop up around Christmas are festive alternatives. One named turrón, which is made of honey, almonds, and other nuts, tastes like condensed peanut or almond butter and can be found in large bricks everywhere. Lastly, while churros certainly aren’t an everyday staple, when Spaniards go out until the morning hours and the famous churros place in the center of Madrid is open 24hrs, grabbing a few with friends is an inevitable final activity.

Of course there are plenty examples of American culinary influence all over Spain. Besides the scattered assortment of Starbucks and KFC stores, there are many twists within them too. The “Dunkin’ Coffee” shops (that's right, coffee before donuts) serve pastries as well as tomatoes on toast (so Catalan) and Serrano ham. McDonalds also offers gazpacho and cherry tomatoes.

image (11)Thanksgiving dinner was again an opportunity to for a Spanish interpretation of an American practice. We started with tapas, like croquetas and spring rolls, and finally received a healthy portion of turkey, with stuffing, gravy, mashed butternut squash, and a chestnut puree. The most controversial part was the accidental heating of the cranberry sauce, however the experience was a flawlessly Spanish thanksgiving. After pumpkin pie and tiramisu and plenty of wine, our program leaders left us to dance to the live music with the local Spaniards before hurrying back to our home stays.

To be honest this year I went to two thanksgiving celebrations. I attended GW Madrid’s swanky, intimate restaurant dinner and a friend’s program’s much larger, potluck style dinner the next night in France. However it was pretty clear at the second that the company of the “GW Madrid” family, and the indescribable Spanish flair incorporated in all our experiences, are incomparable to any other and I am thankful and very full.image (12)

By rbhargava

Continuing on from my last post… after a memorable night in Chintsa, the six of us left for Coffee Bay – much further up the East coast of the country. The several hour-long drive was possibly one of the most memorable as we left the “developed” part of South Africa and entered into the Transkei, which was a Xhosa homeland during the apartheid era – and thus was left out and neglected from the western development of much of the rest of the country. It was an interesting scene to cross from one side to the other – and we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Transkei and the circular huts that were seen across the landscape as far as the eye could see. During our drive, we stopped in a town to eat lunch and buy groceries, and found ourselves the only non-black people in the entire town. It was an experience like no other – as for the first time – all of us really felt out of place and in the minority.

Moving on, after a flat tire in Qunu (Nelson Mandela’s hometown) and a mostly cloudy day on the road – we arrived in the evening in Coffee Bay at the Coffee Shack backpackers. The next day we went on a beautiful hike along the coast to the underwhelming “Hole in the Wall” – which is a small island just off the coast with a hole in it in which water crashes through. Although our 3 hour hike to the Hole in the Wall was not the most exhausting, we decided that the overcast weather was a little too much and we were able to ride on the back of a pick-up truck back to our backpackers. That evening was a full moon, and the backpackers arranged a nice little party for all the backpackers there. Talking to people at backpackers, one will find the most interesting people – and I was treated with great conversations with a French man traveling around the world for 2 years, a British consultant working in Joburg, Danish high school graduates traveling before university, and many more people.

After Coffee Bay, we drove almost all day to get to Port Shepstone, a town 2 hours south of Durban. Here, we stayed a the Spot Backpackers where the Britisch couple managing the hostel told us about how they traveled across the world on motorcycle. Starting in the UK, they had motorbiked all the way down to South Africa, shipped their bikes to Southeast Asia, biked there, then did the same in Australia and South America. Fascinating!

The next day we all woke up for the sunrise at 5am – but were greeted with a cloudy horizon on the beach. Nonetheless, the sunrise was beautiful and it was quite the treat to be able to walk out of our backpackers directly onto the beach to watch it. Later on we went to the nearby Oribi gorge where three of us went zip-lining across the gorge on 15 or so different lines. It was quite the experience and we were lucky enough that the weather kept sunny the whole day. In the afternoon we enjoyed the beach and went kayaking up a stream near the beach. As another fun day came to an end, we prepared to head to Durban the next day – our last stop on the trip before all of us would go on our different ways.

By rbhargava

Last week was my last week of classes, and my last week of the semester. Normally I would be preparing for exams now, but my three courses had their final exams/final classes last week. The first round of exams goes on until November 19th, so I could have hypothetically been taking exams until then. I got lucky! Last Wednesday was my final exam for Transitional Justice as well as my last CIEE class, and last Friday was our “Celebration of Work” for the community engagement course I am in. At the celebration of work we presented a 20 minute documentary on our time as part of the LSCE course. Although I helped with the editing, I think the documentary is a complete exaggeration of the “transformation” that it advertises, and romanticizes the idea of working with “African” kids. Nonetheless, it offers a great taste of what part of my life has been like the past few months. If you have the free time here is the link to watch it:

For the next week I’ll be hanging around Stellenbosch trying to fit in one last trip to my favorite restaurants and places, new trips to places I have yet to go to, and lots and lots of goodbyes to friends from around the world. Next Sunday I’ll begin a 3 week journey through parts of South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia and then head back home. Having finished all my classes last week, I’ve had some time to reflect and many of my activities nowadays are unfortunately labeled as the last time I’ll do XYX.

Last Thursday, CIEE organized a farewell dinner at Bistro13, a top restaurant in the area. Eating our last meal together as a group (the group is the program director Joe, our course convener Ruenda, and then the three students on the program), I realized how much time we had all spent together and the journey we went on. It is very strange to think the program is essentially over at this point and I won’t be seeing Joe and Ruenda regularly now. Over the past few months we have had countless meals and classes together, and at times felt more like a family than a program. We’ve spent time with the Joe and Ruenda’s spouses, traveled around the area with them, and even gone to a Heritage Dinner with them at one of their friends’ homes. Having only three people on the program has allowed for a very unique experience that I am extremely lucky to have been part of. I’ve referenced this many times before in this blog, and I’ll say it again – the experience that CIEE offers at Stellenbosch is like no other – because you quickly forget you are an exchange student and become deeply entrenched into regular day life here.

Speaking of regular day life, almost all of my weekends have been abnormal since I’ve tried to see and do as much as possible. But this past weekend was an exception as I stayed in the Stellenbosch area for both Saturday and Sunday for the first time in a long time. Both days I ended up going to the Jonkershoek Valley and spending time with two of my closest friends here. On Saturday I went with my friend Callee to the Jonkershoek Nature Valley with the intention of swimming in the dam, but that failed and turned into us walking through a stream in the valley and finding nice little pools along the way to relax in. The next morning I returned to the valley by bike with Nadine (a Dutch friend!) and we biked through the valley – stopping at a beautiful bikers cafe to enjoy the valley one last time. In total, I’ve now gone through the valley/hiked in the nature reserve 5 times. It’s returning to your favorite places again and again that make you really appreciate the place you are in, and I am definitely going to miss all the great memories I’ve made biking and hiking in Jonkershoek.

Just this evening a South African friend living in Metanoia – Natali – invited 6 of us internationals living in Metanoia to her house in Durbanville for a braai. It was a fantastic time eating some great food and meeting some of her family and friends. It was a fantastic way to end my last full weekend in Stellenbosch. Only after dinner when Natali was dropping us all off back at Metanoia did we realize we may leave Stellenbosch before she would come back for her exams. It was a sad wake-up call to the ever-nearing end of my time here! I think it might already be time to start planning another trip here.

By clairemac93

When I came to GW as a freshman, I had switched schools every year since I was 13. In fact, coming back to GW for my sophomore year was as much of a foreign concept to me as starting at a new school is for most people. In each new location- Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Germany, and elsewhere, I faced that first day of school and the acquisition of friends with a deep breath, a lot of humility, a sometimes forced sense of humor, as well as walking in the doors with the bar set low.

Doing this abroad takes that much more hutzpah, as in the chaos that is cultural differences and language changes, you sometimes find yourself going mute. I once was quoted that I felt like Ariel from the Little Mermaid abroad, where in exchange for this wonderful experience I lost my voice. But it’s no sob story, rather just a phase in the cultural adjustment pattern of living abroad. Due to my many start-overs in new places, I’d like to suggest some tips for becoming integrated into a new community and how to make friends abroad.

  1. Join organizations, but only ones you actually care about: There is an emphasis on the latter part of this statement, “only the ones you actually care about”. Though I agree that, especially abroad, its good to try new things and go wherever there are people to meet, I also know that I get along better with people who have common interests. I’m also not the best version of myself if I’m doing something I think is a waste of time or not my jam.
  2. Invite people, don’t expect to be invited: I know, it sucks when despite you hitting it off with classmates- you seem to never actually be invited to things. You only hear about them after-the-fact. I also know that inviting yourself to things is both uncomfortable and unsustainable. Rather, instead, invite people. Going to a class at the gym? Invite a friend from class to go with you. Friends on a budget? Host a dinner at your dorm. Want to see a tourist attraction? Invite a local instead of a fellow foreigner. The worst people can say is no, and by way of experience, that “no” rarely happens.
  3. Don’t travel in large groups of Americans: I love me some America, but I’ll be honest in saying that many drop the ball in meeting locals via the simple mistake of moving in large groups of Americans. You are completely unapproachable in a group, and much more approachable on your own. Additionally, recognizing staying among Americans as a crutch of sorts, or a safety blanket, might help you branch out on your own. Why travel if you create your own America abroad?
  4. Capitalize off of your foreignness: I’m not saying you should buy a megaphone and sing the national anthem in the streets (in fact, avoid that very thing) but do let people know you’re interested in learning the culture and ask them to show you what they like most about their own countries. Remind people that you’re only around for a short time. Additionally, find locals who are interested in travel, international relations, or who have gone abroad themselves. They will be the most likely to want to pay it forward and take you under their wing.
  5. Start early: What a shame it is to hit it off with someone only to find yourself with a few weeks to go of the program. Rather, reach out right away, join things immediately upon arriving, and don’t wait until you lose momentum later in the semester/year.
  6. Don’t get discouraged and reach out if necessary: An unfamiliar culture may mean that you just don’t hit it off as easily with people as back home, don’t quite understand their humor, or maybe have less in common. Don’t give up. It’s a hard process to find friends, and it’s the easier option to just settle on foreign friends. But making local friends is a huge part of why you’re abroad, and how you can both learn about the country and teach about your own. So keep trying! Keep putting yourself out there. However, if things start to feel lonely- reach out. Call someone for coffee, go to the movies, skype with a friend back home. Just because you’re struggling to make friends doesn’t entail forced social deprivation.

Hopefully some of these tips are helpful. It is no easy process making local friends, but I think its just as much a part of studying abroad and sightseeing and learning the language. I was lucky enough to make my two best friends during my first couple weeks here through our common interest in German language. See here:

New Friends: Helen, Liz, and I
New Friends: Helen, Liz, and I

By juliaraewagner

It has been a little maddening to operate in a city where I do not speak the language. I've been able to get along fine with English and the Spanish that I know, but I would like to attest to the fact that Portuguese is not simply "Spanish with a Brazilian accent" as the Argentines often say.  It is always a bit sad to hear someone address you and not have the slightest idea of how to respond.

My friends have been great at teaching me some survival Portuguese. I can greet people and ask for general directions. I am okay at ordering simple things in restaurants, but its still interesting when the waiters start asking for difficult orders. At any rate, its a work in progress, as learning a language always is.

I've been interested to learn some new words in Brazilian Portuguese because its such a rich language with so many influences. My favorite word thus far has been saudades which has no translation into English, but roughly means the pleasant nostalgia one feels for past experiences or people. It can even refer to such things that have not yet occurred. My friends introduced the word to me when we were saying our goodbyes at the close of fall semester, but also used it to describe their excitement at the prsopect of me visiting in the next few months. Either way, its that warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach that makes you want to jump around in excitment.

I think saudades is a perfect way of encapsulating how I feel about this past year abroad. I've had so many wonderful experiences and met so many special people, that thinking about any of them will always incite the warm, longing feeling of saudades. I will always have a sense of nostalgia for this year. One of the most important things I've learned, however, is that these experiences and lessons do not have to simply remain in the past as a memory. I can incorporate them into my daily life and allow them to live into the present and future. Just like saudades, the good feelings do not need to stop in the past, but can continue into the future.

As I visit my friends and new places around the world, I look forward to carrying these memories with me and making new memories in the future. Cheers to travel!

By meaggymurphy

In the midst of exam study time, I would like to step back and take a moment to make a brief list of all of the things that I have been lucky for so far in my time in Pamplona (Also, this can serve as this year's Thanksgiving "What I am Thankful For" speech that never was). It's nice, every once in awhile, to remind myself of some of the ways that the universe has treated me well/how I have luckily dodged bullets over the past few months.

1. Choosing to study in Pamplona: I got lucky picking "Pamps" (as I affectionately call it) over another city in Spain because it it the perfect place for study abroad; it's not too big or overwhelming, it's got rich history/traditions, it's very authentically "Spanish" (no Starbucks here!), and it's surrounded by beautiful scenery. I gambled a little coming here, but in the end it was a bet that paid off.

2. My housing situation: I feel so lucky that I ended up rooming with three really great girls who are fun, understanding, helpful, and genuinely friendly roommates. I can't imagine how my experience would have been had they been any different.

3. My professors: Although taking classes in Spanish can sometimes be intimidating (presentations and class participation in a foreign language, or any language for that matter, is intimidating!), I definitely feel that I have a great group of understanding professors. Luckily, they all seem to have in mind that I'm here to learn the language and the culture in addition to the textbook material, so they have been very accommodating and always available to answer questions.

4. My health: Apart from one case of food poisoning (never again will I look at Salmon Pizza the same), I have been very fortunate (knock on wood- I've still got over a week to go) to not contract any dire illnesses or break any bones. This is lucky because a)no one likes feeling sick while away from home and b)going to the doctor is an experience I'd rather not have. I guess a pincho a day keeps the doctor away!

5. Spanish culture: One of my favorite parts of this experience has been the opportunity to feel a part of Spanish culture. I've gotten to stop and smell the roses, and I think that this is something that should not be underestimated in importance or impact. I decided to come to Spain for a lot of reasons, but one of the best and most surprising things I've gotten out of study abroad is a different life view that I am lucky to take home with me. I owe Spain a huge thank you for that.

6. My friends: This is last but most certainly not least. Actually, I could write endlessly about them, but I'll keep it short and sweet. I think there must be something in the water here; Pamplona seems to have a high concentration of people with great personalities who have appeared in my life specifically to be their awesome selves and teach me a lot. I've been blown away by how quickly and effortlessly people have welcomed me into their lives, as well as how easily they have become a part of mine. I've gotten to have classes, conversations, experiences, and travels with some of the best people on planet Earth during my time here. They get the biggest shout-out of them all!