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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 LizGoodwin04

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

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

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

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

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

By Hannah Radner

Whether or not one celebrates, Christmas time is joyous. Here in London (and, I suppose, everywhere else in the world that isn't America), Thanksgiving does not exist. In the USA we know it's coming on November 1 when Starbucks exchanges the PSL for the Peppermint Mocha and red cups; however, Thanksgiving is just the road block to full on Christmas hysteria. Here, thanks to the absence of Thanksgiving, Christmas starts on November 1, and I am all for it. The only downside to spending the holidays here is missing them at home. This is the first year I didn't see my family for Thanksgiving, which would have been a lot harder to handle had it not been for GW England. That's right, kids, I'm about to make a pitch, so get ready.

I chose a program on GW England because I was only vaguely aware of the resources that would be available to me; I knew we would have some sort of GW advising in London, and I liked knowing that I would have someone to fall back on if I was having any trouble. We do have an advisor here, but this is only the beginning of the benefits of GW England. The advantages of the program were already apparent nearly as soon as I got here, as we GW students at LSE all moved in early so we could go to our GW England orientation events. For starters, my flat mate is also from GW. Second, we got to meet all the other GW students who would be with us at our school and throughout the city. On our first day, we got breakfast at Café in the Crypt, took a walking tour, took a boat cruise down the Thames, had lunch and explored the Tower of London, and then were free to explore the city as we so chose. About a week and a half later, we had the opportunity to see a play at the Globe theatre (yes, the Shakespeare one). Our advisor, Geeta, has taken us out to lunch by school; those of us at LSE were fortunate enough to go to Nando's. One day in early November we took a day trip to the town of Bath where we took a walking tour, had lunch, and explored the Roman Baths and the town itself. That day I ate at Sally Lunn's Historic Eating House, where I stuffed myself full of delicious buns and tea. Our last event of the term is afternoon tea at the National Portrait Gallery, where I intend to stuff myself full of more bread and tea.

Being Americans abroad, perhaps the most meaningful event put on by GW England was our Thanksgiving dinner this past Thursday. Thanksgiving break is often a welcome respite from school. In high school, we had a pep rally and a football game between celebrated rivals. At GW, it is the calm before the finals storm. On Thursday, Thanksgiving did not feel like Thanksgiving because I had a paper due in class that day. I usually have classes from 4-7 on Thursdays, but due to the abundance of American expats at LSE, my professor was very kind and understanding and excused me from my last one so I could be on time for dinner. For this I am thankful (see what I did there?). The LSE runs its own Thanksgiving dinner for General Course students, and my building had a Thanksgiving potluck, but I am glad I chose to do Thanksgiving with GW. It was catered in a function room at a nice hotel, and it was cool to see the majority of GW England students all sitting at the same table. While I wasn't surrounded by family as usual, I was surrounded by friends; it finally felt like Thanksgiving, aside from the fact that I was full after only one plate of food.

The holidays are here. The twenty five days of Christmas are upon us. The festivities are in full operation, from Hyde Park Winter Wonderland to the South Bank Christmas Market to ice skating at Somerset House to the posh Oxford Street department stores having a silent war over who has the best Christmas window displays (I am biased towards John Lewis because of the penguins and the commercial that made me cry). I've had my Thanksgiving, and I have two weeks left until vacation. That's one essay, sixteen class hours, and a few hundred more pages of reading. The reward is sweet: I am going to Spain for a week, and what a relief it will be. This is definitely the most wonderful time of the year.

By mcbitter

10805259_10205383992308083_416554692_nI know it's only mid-November, but that doesn't mean I can't get excited for Christmas! This weekend, my friends and I went to the Christmas markets on the Champs-Elysees, and let me tell you, they know how to do a market! On each side of the avenue were little shops full of handmade crafts, jewelry, ornaments, you name it. I found one particular shop that was different kinds of tea, all of which were named for various cities in France. Besides the shops, there were also tons of food booths set up - you could get crepes, waffles, German sausages, even cotton candy! It was absolutely wonderful and a great way to spend an afternoon. After walking through the shops (we only did half of them so that we can go back again!), we went for a ride on on the "grand roue de Paris" - the ferris wheel! It gave spectacular views of the city and was well worth the ten euros. Next time, I also want to check out the ice rink that was nearby.

Speaking of holidays, Thanksgiving is coming up, right? As sad as it is, you can't find this gem of a holiday outside of the United States, so that's probably why France is already focusing so heavily on Christmas. (Or that might just be the norm now.) We have a Thanksgiving dinner planned with our program though, so I'll definitely get my turkey! As for all the other traditional favorites, there are quite a few specialty food stores around the city that offer them - stuffing, cranberry sauce, the works. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from home, but everyone here has become my family too, so I have no doubt that it'll be wonderful!

By zamorse

There is a ceremony on campus tonight (and all around the country) for Holocaust Remembrance Day and I thought this would be a good time to talk a little about all of the different holidays going on recently here in Israel. We are right now in the middle of the holiday season in Judaism and in Israeli culture, with at least five holidays in a three week period. Its nuts.

Last week was Passover, made famous by Matza or the unleavened bread that Jews eat for eight days. My parents came to visit, we had a nice banquet on the night of the holiday, and it was like spring break all over Israel.

Tonight is the Holocaust Remembrance Day, called Yom Hashoah (יום השואה) in Hebrew. It is Israel's remembrance day for the 6 million Jews that perished in the Holocaust. It is a day of mourning and reflection. Places of entertainment, like movie theaters, will be closed by law tonight. Flags are lowered to half-mast and it is customary to wear white.

Next Monday night is Israel's Memorial Day called Yom Hazikaron (יום הזיכרון) in Hebrew. The day is dedicated to Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. It is also a very somber day in Israel. A siren is sounded all over the country at which point Israel's stop whatever they're doing (including driving) and stand in silence.

Yom Hazikaron is immediately followed the next day by Yom Haatzmaut (יום העצמאות), or Israel's Independence Day. It is not on May 14 (when Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel in 1948) because it follows the Jewish calender, which is a lunar calendar, and changes dates every year. This, of course, is one of the happiest days on the Jewish and Israeli calendar. Ceremonies are held all over the country, especially the capital Jerusalem. More than ceremonies, there are huge parties held all over the country. There are Israeli flags everywhere in Israel right now on the streets getting ready for this outpouring of patriotism.

There is another holiday, Lag Ba'Omer int he middle of May. There is also one ongoing right now, called Sefirah (Counting of the Omer), counting the days between Passover and Shavuot (a harvest festival in June).

So to say that it is a hectic time in Judaism and here in Israel is an understatement. There is a lot going on, but I think it really speaks to how Israeli culture operates. One day is Memorial Day, one of the saddest days of the year, and the very next day is Independence Day, by far the happiest day of the year. So we'll see what happens.

I usually only go back home one time before the end of the semester (for Thanksgiving). When it comes time to depart from Union Station for my home in the hills, I always look forward to it. I'm excited to return to family, friends, pets, the house I grew up in, and the restaurants that I never really appreciated until I left. We all know the feeling of comfort that accompanies familiarity. Conversely, at the end of long holidays, I'm always ready to go back to DC. I'm excited to return again to my other friends, classes, parties, nightlife, etc. But my desire to return to these two places has never been uncomfortably strong.

However, this past week was the first time I really experienced homesickness. I think a combination of missing both of these homes, in addition to missing creature comforts (like bacon, fresh milk, public transit, burgers, clean streets, English proficiency, good beer, etc...) really just got to me. I kind of just laid in bed, thinking about how great it was going to be to see all my favorite people and places again. Focusing on this made anything else just seem gray.

But after a wasted day filled with a disgusting amount of sleeping, lounging, and Facebook, I just got tired of being homesick; I came to the realization that there's no way I'm going to do everything that I want to do before I leave here, and I'll most likely leave wishing I could come back to experience this that or the other thing. And while I still miss all those things back in the states, I've stopped thinking about it so much. Constantly comparing things to their counterparts "back home" gets you in this terrible state of mind where you fail to fully appreciate what's in front of you. So while I'm still looking forward to my homecoming experience, I've stopped looking ahead to it. That is. I've been focusing on where and when I am right now, and no more, and that has been much more enjoyable.