Archive for August, 2011


Chiyo: We’re from America, we didn’t know any better

August 31, 2011

The plane ride was probably one of the best/easiest rides I’ve ever had. I slept a majority of the flight, and by the time I woke up, there was only about another half hour until we landed in London. Getting off the plane, we were all disoriented and shuttled to the UK Border, where we handed our “landing cards” to security, and were ushered through to grab our luggage. After Sunshine and I grabbed our bags, we went in search of the taxis, and met up with two other girls in the CAPA program and shared a taxi to our flat, Newman Court. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a British CAPA advisor, and an American advisor, who gave us a packet, and an envelope with our Oyster Card (for the Tube), and our class schedule. 

Our flat is a two bedroom, two bath flat, with a living room, balcony, and kitchen. It’s very cozy and has plenty of space, however the beds are not comfortable at all, so this should make for an interesting four months…My roommates are all very nice, and we immediately went in search for food because we all were hungry from traveling and not eating the airplane food. My roommates and I went to Sunshine’s flat, because he lives in the Penthouse flat, and grabbed all the guys to go find food and beer. We found a pub, and soon discovered they don’t serve food, so we were ok with beer and only beer. Zach, a guy from New Jersey and I came up with the saying, “We’re from America…we didn’t know any better!” to use if we make a mistake while we’re here. Which, let’s be real, we will be making lots of mistakes along the way. After taking pictures, and mingling with the locals, we were off to the grocery store for some real food. Now this is not your typical grocery store. They sold lingerie alongside the groceries, which was just strange. Food is so much more expensive here, and they definitely don’t have the “college” diet of Ramen and Mac And Cheese that Sunshine and I were frantically searching for. The walk back from the store to our flat is quite the walk, and my roommate Diane and I quickly learned that we’ll be taking the bus from now on when we want to get grocery items. 

We just had “flat orientation” where we learned how to use the appliances, and I learned that for a small load of laundry, it’s going to take a whopping four hours from washing to drying. Looks like I’ll have to just keep buying clothes! The oven is a lot different than the one’s in the states, and I was too tired to pay attention on how to actually use the thing… On a brighter note, we have heated floors in our flat which is lovely, since it is constantly cold and foggy in London!


Chiyo: London bound

August 30, 2011


Today is the big day. I’m about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, where I’ll be studying in London for the Fall semester, and interning for fashion company Esprit, working in their sample showroom. I have a mix of emotions right now; sad, happy, excited, nervous, and I’m sure reality won’t set in until I step foot off the plane, and am in Heathrow airport. It’s been eight years since I’ve been to London, but I always promised myself I would go back, and here I am about to leave for the city that I fell in love with several years ago.


Margaret: 灯红酒绿 – Dēnghóngjiǔlǜ – the high life

August 30, 2011

The highlight of today: IKEA!!! The university provided a few buses to take the international students across town to IKEA. I got a few essentials and nonessentials, but I tried to limit myself because the prices weren’t cheap like the rest of China and were more similar to those back in the states. Inspired by my girl Alicia Gruenwald, my room now has a color scheme! This IKEA was very similar to thoseback in the United States, however in China it’s very common to see people literally under the covers of the beds in the bedroom section fully asleep. Strange perhaps, but my Taiwanese-American girlfriend Tiffany pointed out an interesting insight to me. While China does not have the same freedoms and rights distinctly spelled out on pieces of paper, the Chinese people are in essence more free than we are in America. Why? I have been here less than a week, and I’ve witnessed little babies peeing on the streets, groups of young people sitting together on the sidewalks just hanging out, and foreign students on the floor just outside the dormitory cafe mooching off the free internet. Would any of that happen in America? Probably not because in America we hold ourselves to a strict social code for free of what people are going to think of our actions. This is also some ways shaped by capitalism. We can’t just sit on the sidewalk. Instead we’ll go buy a cappuccino at the coffee shop down the way and sit at a table on the sidewalk. And we can’t just sit there and sip the coffee.  We have to be chatting with someone or reading a book or working on the computer.  We all do these types of things in some way or another.  But in China, anything goes and nobody cares. And it feels strangely wonderful to know that the next time I buy a mattress at IKEA, I can try out FINNVIK, FJORDGARD, and FLORVÅG to find the best one.

While at IKEA I met Till from Germany, who is doing a masters in Chinese law and is interested in intellectual property rights, and Vladimir from Sweden, who is doing a masters in psychology. Vladimir felt right back at home in IKEA and was eager to go to the cafe. He explained to me that the names on all the IKEA products actually do mean something that has to do with what the product is. I purchased a duvet cover with green rectangles all over it called GRÖNKULLA, which he says means “green hill.”  These cute block-shaped candles are called FYRKANTIG, meaning “square.”  We had a great time going through all names of all my purchases. Vladimir and Till were both excited to hear that I have Swedish and German heritage. However, when I told Till my last name, he was beside himself with laughter. Apparently we Americans don’t know how to pronounce our own German last names. Oh the things you learn while abroad…

Yesterday the university took the international students to the Great Wall, or chang cheng.  Most of the students elected to take a cable car to the top, but I was adamant about climbing up on foot.  There’s an old Chinese saying that goes, “You’re not a man untilyou have climbed the Great Wall of China,” and besides, the idea that there’s a cable car going to the top made me a bit sad and took away from the beauty of the area.  This was probably a mistake.  There were well over a thousand steps just to get to the Wall, and once on it there are many segments that are made up of stairs, sometimes especially steep ones. I’ve already climbed it once before in 2008, but this time we were on a different segment of it.  The air quality was pretty poor, so most of my photos look quite gloomy.  That’s not mist you’re seeing.  The best part of the day was the alpine slide.  

Rather than having to climb down the from the wall, we paid about $6 or $7 USD to take a sled down a metal track.  You weren’t supposed to take pictures and there were employees positioned every few hundred feet who would yell at you through megaphone if you tried to or if you were going too fast, but I managed to snap a few.  It was a blast!!!  The whole experience is awe inspiring, and the only thing I could think about the entire time was how entirely lucky I am to be here.  The amount of people in the world that get this chance…  It really is amazing and I feel so blessed.

Each and every night has been some combination of eating amazing food and dancing. I’ve had incredible meals at two of the best restaurants in Beijing, only paying between $20 and $30 for each. Bus fares are $0.17 and $0.06 if you use a prepaid fare card. A cab ride to the expat student hangout spot, WuDaoKou, is about $1.50. A meal at on-campus restaurants is somewhere around $2 and $3, and a sub at Subway might set you back $4. This truly is the high life here. Last night I found myself eating the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen at a swanky Thai restaurant in a high rise on SanLiTun, a popular bar and shopping street, looking out at Beijing’s architectural wonders. 

I thought to myself, “Is this seriously my life? How did I get here?”  I’m so incredibly lucky to be having this experience.  So many people in the States told me they could never do this, but right now I’m asking myself how anyone could pass this up.  Sure, there are minor irritations – the power in our bedroom shutting off automatically whenever it feels like it or the squat toilets or the necessity of buying bottled water or the idea that I can buy Skippy peanut butter and a loaf of wheat bread at the convenience store but I can’t buy a knife to spread it with because Chinese people generally don’t need knives. But I think the amazing things far outweigh those, and I think the ultimate challenge for foreigners in China is to patiently accept those things for what they are and just go with the flow.


Sarah: In an effort to cut English out of my life…

August 30, 2011

I’ve started listening to Spanish music on the way to school, while I’m studying, and as I fall asleep. As a consequence, I’ve expanded my collection of songs by Maná, a well known pop-rock band from Mexico.

This song is called Vivir Sin Aire, from their album Dónde Jugarán Los Niños, and is currently one of my favorite Spanish love songs.


Chelsea: Farewell USA

August 29, 2011

Whirlwind of emotions: check.

This summer has been filled with memories of important family moments, hysterical laughter with friends, and travels galore! Although I’m saddened to leave behind great family & friends and to miss upcoming moments at home and school, I am excited to spend the next few months living in a different culture and experiencing new things!

In the past few weeks, I haven’t had much time to think about the semester ahead, so now that it’s the next & only thing to think about, all the worries come rushing in!

But, that being said, I am extremely excited for the next few months to come and to finally have “study abroad” stories of my own to pass on! I expect a few challenges along the way, but in the end, know that it will be a life-changing, memorable experience…even without those few extra shirts (and heels) that wouldn’t fit into my multiple suitcases.

I hope for on-time flights tomorrow, even though my track record would suggest otherwise! 


Thomas: Safe & sound

August 28, 2011

At around noon today (Argentina time) I arrived at my new home in the city of Buenos Aires. The air travel was long, but no problems occurred either in the air or at the terminals. On both of my flights I sat next to one of the other program participants from the University of Minnesota.

On the ten hour plan ride from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, I got little to no sleep, but continuing to feel awake, I have decided to write a blog post. I was dropped off at the doorstep of Mariana’s apartment I will living in for the next three and a half months. Her apartment is on the fourth floor and is made up of about nine rooms. It’s truly a beautiful place in a fantastic neighborhood. Here are some pictures of my room. I also enjoyed my first food in Buenos Aires, which was a milk-caramel-chocolate cookie.

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Having only been in the city for a couple of hours, I barely know what is outside my door and what the city has in store. I do know, however, that I am within close walking distance to my school, which begins tomorrow with orientation. I think this is the start of something!

Up Next: More pictures from inside and outside of the apartment and much more!


Sarah: Andes excursion!

August 27, 2011

Yesterday my group took a trip through the Andes Mountains. Our goal was to find snow…and we did! When we woke up at 7 a.m. it was already almost 80 degrees outside and sunny. I hardly believed our group leader when she told me to bring my North Face, one of my warmest fleece jackets, but after riding on the bus for several hours I started to shiver.

We stopped on the way up the mountains at two places. First, to see this view…

and second, to take a closer look at this lonely mountainside stone church.

After that I didn’t think it could get any more beautiful…

until we got higher up in the mountains.

We finally reached a high enough elevation that we could see snow and sleet (thank you mom for the rain jacket!), and I could see my breath, so we stopped for lunch and a hot chocolate at this little mountain restaurant.

I was starving at this point and was definitely not disappointed with my meal: traditional Venezuelan soup with potatoes, mild white cheese, and cilantro

and chicken in mushroom sauce with seasoned potatoes and “arroz con vino tinto”

After eating, we continued on to our destination and finally reached the snowy peaks of the Andes!

There are really no words to describe what I saw, but what I will never forget the way I felt – thrilled, overwhelmed, a little dizzy from the elevation, and very very cold.

The Andes Mountains are now at the top of my list of most beautiful places in the world.


Mountain climbers.

Monster flowers.

Winter lake.


Rainbow hat.

All in all, it was an excessive amount of beauty to absorb in one day. I think I still feel the adrenaline.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”        – St. Augustine.

What I’m thinking right now: nothing tops traveling and seeing things you NEVER expected to witness with your own eyes.


Margaret: 混乱 – Hǔnluàn – chaos

August 27, 2011

By some miracle, I am alive and in my room at Peking University’s Zhongguanxinyuan Global Village. It is 6:47 am and I am writing this at my desk next to my open window, outside of which a thunderstorm is absolutely roaring.  My plans to hunt down some wireless Internet have been foiled yet again as the streets outside are quickly becoming canals.

I awoke just a few days ago at around 6 am to a “last breakfast” of dad’s delicious pancakes before saying a tearful goodbye to him and my beloved Bentley.  Mom took me to the airport where she stayed until she could no longer see me on the other side of security.  A word on goodbyes: after saying so many of them, I’ve determined that they’re best done quickly and shortly, more of a “see you later” than a true farewell.  Nevertheless, leaving my parents and boyfriend Josh proved to be extremely difficult.

I flew United to Chicago O’Hare where I had a three-hour layover before a direct flight to Beijing.  At one point I was sitting next to a payphone at the gate and a little lady approached it with a paper full of Chinese and phone numbers. She asked me in Chinese to help her make a call. I understood every single thing she said, but a lack of confidence in my language abilities rendered me embarrassingly mute as I pointed to the “$0.50” sign on the phone. Never did it occur to me that I should just lend her my cell phone, and right as I was about to make the call her travel companion arrived, offering up her phone instead. It was silly of me, and so I decided regardless of my dismal tones and pronunciation, I need to be trying every chance I get if I want to make the most out of this year.

There was nothing about the thirteen-hour flight that “wasn’t that bad,” as I had been saying to everyone back home. I think I watched four movies, wrote ten pages in my journal, and scrawled probably over a thousand characters.  I was in the window seat and, as a result, I only got up once to walk around and use the restroom. Window seat + two sleeping elderly people + a thirteen-hour flight = a very bad combination.  All I could think about when I got off the plane was finding a restroom.

It took a long time to go through what I think was customs. I probably spent forty minutes with other expats waiting in a line that moved once every ten minutes of so. I exchanged my money ($1 = roughly 6 RMB) and loaded my two bags onto a cart, pushing it through a massive swath of people with signs written in every language waiting for arrivals.

I got in the front seat of a taxi with a driver who, despite his youthful appearance, had about three very yellowed teeth. I told him my destination in Chinese, and he immediately pulled out his phone to call his buddy who we soon drove up next to in the adjacent taxi. I don’t think he knew where we were going. We didn’t talk at all for about thirty minutes until he mustered up the courage to ask me if I spoke Chinese. I told him I spoke yi dian, or a little, as it certainly didn’t feel like I had studied Mandarin for two years now as I was sitting in a taxicab trying to talk to a native. I asked if he spoke English, and amidst unnecessary giggles I made out his response: yi dian dian. We spoke a bit more about Peking University and America, but he continued to use words I did not know. This is truly one of the most difficult aspects of the Chinese languages. There’s very little you can do when someone uses a word you do not know. No words sound the same as English, and there are no prefixes or suffixes from which to draw clues. It is essentially a dead end. He did know one translation for a word I didn’t know: traffic.

I didn’t realize it until later, but I had mixed up the words for “east” and “west” and, as a result, I was dropped off on the wrong side of campus. I began to pull my 80 lbs of luggage in what I thought was the right direction. Everyone was staring at me, presumably because of my unnecessary amount of luggage, and motorbike taxi drivers everywhere were yelling out at me, trying to buy my business. I would have obliged if I had know where I was going. Trees had been planted in a sidewalk that kept getting narrower and narrower until my bags collapsed into one of the planting cutouts. My luggage was too heavy, and I had no clue where to go. I stood there flustered for a moment before my savior, a student on a bike on the road next to me, offered me help in English, loading my two heavy bags onto a tiny rack on his bicycle.

Zhao Tiefu is a student. He kept talking about Peking University and it neighbor and rival, Tsinghua University, so I think he’s gone to both. His English is absolutely incredible, but several times he stops me to correct his pronunciation of “a little,” “air conditioning,” and “traffic jams.” He likes American culture and admires our “free creativity,” something he thinks China lacks. He would like to come to America (“Boston is my dream!”) so he can attend MIT or Harvard. He seems surprisingly unimpressed that my brother attended Yale, responding to my comment swiftly with “George Bush went there.”  He thinks Minnesota is “very famous” because of music he’s heard and movies he’s seen. He continues to joke about how handsome he is and is absolutely beside himself when I answer his inquiry that yes, American girls like boys who can play guitar. Most of our conversation is in English, however when I ask about the bar scene, jiuba, he is once again beside himself that that is one of the Chinese words I know. We walk for perhaps twenty minutes through campus with my bags.  He brings up again and again just how friendly people are and proves it to me by asking about fifteen different people for help finding Zhongguanyuan. We eventually find it, and he waits outside with my bags on his bike while I check in.

To my shock and surprise, the front desk did have my information and gave me the key. While in line, I met an American, management graduate student named Tiffany. I literally haven’t seen another white person since the airport, and although Tiffany is Asian American, she assured me she’s “white on the inside,” and so we were both very relieved to meet each other. She gave me her cell number even though I don’t have a phone yet and wants to meet up with me at some point so we can navigate this absolutely chaotic place.

Tiefu helped bring my bags up to my room and then said that he must leave immediately.  I tried offering to buy him dinner in return for helping me, but he wouldn’t allow it, giving me his phone number instead saying sometime we can get together so I can hear him play guitar and teach him American songs. Every once in a while in life, someone comes along without whom you would not be able to make it. Tiefu was just that. Read the rest of this entry ?


Thomas: Ready to depart

August 26, 2011

I will be departing Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP) on August 27, 2011 to connect with a flight in Atlanta, GA to then fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Yesterday, I received my Homestay information. I will be living with Mariana, 54, and her son Miguel, 24. The two of them have an apartment in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires. According to Wikipedia, Recoleta is considered one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city, and the cost per square meter is one of the highest available in Buenos Aires. Learn more about my new neighborhood here.


Sarah: ¡Mérida, Venezuela!

August 25, 2011

This is me, blogging comfortably from my hammock at Venusa, the college where I am studying in Mérida. And this is one of my favorite study areas:

Beautiful, isn’t it? One of my favorite things about the school and about life in Venezuela in general is that people are so much a part of nature. The houses and schools all have areas that are open to the outdoors, like this one.

Some things that are interesting here:

They eat lots of jamón y queso (ham and cheese), the café con leche (coffee with steamed milk and sugar) is better than any Starbucks latte that I’ve ever had, and there are never hand towels in the bathrooms.

And apparently ham and corn pizza is popular at Dominoes? Who would’ve thought.

Some things that I already love, some things I still have to get used to.

My group and I arrived in Mérida on Monday night, and yesterday we took a walking tour through the city. These are my fellow travelers and the 20 people that I will be going to school with and getting to know over the next 3 months!

The architecture in Mérida is beautiful. This is a school building where they teach fine arts to children and people in the community, and the style here is very similar to many of the houses and buildings throughout the city. 

That’s all for now…more photos to come!




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