Archive for September, 2011

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Lauren: Defeated by Danish

September 30, 2011

Well I had to drop Danish class today. It was just the most defeating class ever. Since I have only had two very casual years of learning Danish, I was just not up to par with my peers. In Iceland, students are required to take at least four years of Danish so by the time they get to university, they are going into their fifth year. (Yeah, that is how math works…) Anyways, I thought I could keep up with the big boys but it turns out I just can’t. AND THAT’S OKAY! **mutters encouraging words to myself while rocking back and forth** But really, it is ooookkkkaayyy. I will just have to try to continue with Danish on my own, at my own pace. I have some great resources from the few weeks I was in this class so I am sure I will still be learning even without the grade. On a more positive note… I am the new Vice President of Outgoing Exchange and International Relations with AIESEC Iceland (pronunounced: eye-sek). Here is a little video about AIESEC and I will be able to fill you in on more after I have my orientation all weekend.

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Sarah: Fútbol

September 29, 2011

In Venezuela, fútbol is like the mountains, the plants and the storms….

WILD.

And very different from the U.S.

I went to my first “soccer” game ever in South America on Sunday, and I definitely got a taste of the latin american fútbol scene. The passion these people have for the game of soccer is incredible. My favorite example of this is the huge sign I saw hanging from the fence surrounding the soccer field. It said “pasión y locura” – passion and craziness.

This is what a fútbol stadium looks like in Mérida, Venezuela:

And this is what a football stadium looks like in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It is an amazing feeling to be sitting in the stands on a beautiful, warm, Venezuela evening gazing at the mountains that seem to be swallowing you up from every direction.

And it is an entirely different feeling to be freezing your butt off at TCF Bank Stadium with your friends, watching the Gophers play and smiling when you look up at that oh-so-familiar skyline in the distance.

But they are both exhilerating and give me a rush when I think about them. One makes me realize how lucky I am, how far away I am, and what an incredible experience I’m having.

The other makes me nostalgic, proud, and greatful to have the best family, school and friends in the world waiting for me when I come home to winter in Minnesota.

Needless to say, it would be impossible to forget either one.

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Mia: More Kenya antics

September 29, 2011

So on Monday, I decided after not being able to run or exercise outside of house aerobics (squats down the hallway are a blast) that I needed to get a good workout. I pulled a random circuit/muscle-building workout off the internet and went to the nearest, cheapest gym, which happens to be 5 minutes from my house, outside of Kenyatta Market. It’s only 250 shillings a day for students, and 3000 a month (the exchange rate is about 102 shillings per dollar right now). 

It was a great workout, but the people in the gym seemed puzzled at my confusion as they were trying to introduce themselves to me…as I was on the treadmill with my mp3 player on. I think the gym is more of a social scene here, as everyone was having a conversation in the weight/treadmill/water room. But it’s a great value, and because of the unsafe running areas around the house, and the hot showers at the gym, I’ll be going back there frequently. 

I was actually going to return to the gym today, but research got in the way of that. I’ve been sitting at my computer for about 8 hours now trying to find ‘scholarly’ sources for all these term papers, and the concept paper for our research proposal. For some topics, finding free sources (mostly studies), is very easy. Apparently American foreign policy in Africa during the Cold War is not one of those topics…JSTOR has failed me again (honestly, who the ^%@* wants to pay 25 dollars for an article), so I’m going to the University of Nairobi’s Library to attempt to find some of the sources I found online. But I’m sure there are other topics with more available resources, so I’ll just have to play it by ear.

On a lighter note, I’ve been having hair issues lately (I took the braids out, and my hair is longer than it’s been in 3 years), so I bit the bullet and got a straightener. I wasn’t expecting much (it was 30$, only heats up to 290 degrees, and is tiny), but I was definitely in for a surprise. When I plugged it in, it heated up within 5 seconds, and made my hair the straightest I’ve ever seen it haha…I think it’s one of the nicest ones I’ve ever used. Kak harasho! 

Well, blog break’s over, now I have to get back to writing my literature review for the concept paper. The group settled on researching refugees in northern Kenya, and I’m focusing on where and how the children are getting educated. Fun stuff, I’ll probably put something about it on here next time. 

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Alex: Sasa

September 28, 2011

Last Friday me and a group of my peers performed a Samoan sasa led by a renown Samoan dance instructor.

I’m taking a class on Pacific art. Every week, more or less, we cover a different art form: weaving, bark cloth, carving, tattoo, etc. Last week was dance. We had our lecture in the campus fale, because presumably there was going to be some sort of demonstration. The first hour plodded along, with our guest lecturer talking about the importance of preserving traditional dances and whatnot. Then as the second hour started he told us to push the chairs to the sides of the room and to choose a spot on the floor to sit.

I am terrified of dancing. I’m not good at it. I’m white as can be, I’m awkward and uncoordinated and my sense of timing is sub-par at best. But my hope was that sitting would limit the potential for me to embarrass myself utterly, since only half my body would be able to be awkward and uncoordinated. But I had no idea what a sasa was, and I had no idea what I might be in for.

So I sat on the floor and prepared for the worst. I was relieved to find out that sasa is a Samoan clap dance. I may not be able to dance, but I can clap with the best of them. Slowly he taught us the moves, making us do them slowly at first, and stringing together longer and longer sequences of claps, ground slaps and various hand and arm movements.

Then we put it all together, and a simple string of claps and slaps became something else entirely. Our instructor/leader was drumming with two wooden sticks on the back of a plastic chair, but as soon as he started counting us in in Samoan, for all I knew that plastic chair was a centuries-old Samoan instrument–I was swept away.

As we slapped our knees to the beat that he kept on his chair-drum he started shouting things–things in Samoan that I didn’t understand, things that the Samoan students in the room knew exactly what to do with. They were calls, calls which were answered in the most energetic and invigorating way possible. It charged the whole huge open-air fale with energy. It got me excited to dance. It got me excited to be a part of this group that had from which I could learn.

In that moment, all of us clapping in time, Samoan calls and answers lighting up the room, I felt totally connected to those people–people that I don’t even really know. In that moment, the movements mattered so much less than that group of people–that wonderful environment. That’s not to say that the moves fell by the wayside. If anything, I was inspired by this almost magical sasa energy to perform the best sasa a white boy from Wisconsin had ever performed.

That energy stuck with me. The rest of that day, I could not get that plastic-chair-beat out of my head. I can still hear those calls and answers in my head. Sometimes, in the moments when I am falling asleep, I feel that collective energy surge through me and I feel as if I may never need to sleep again.
Post script: Here is a link to a sasa performed at Polyfest, which is a huge Polynesian dance competition held in Auckland every year. The one we performed was considerably less complex, but hopefully this will give you some idea.
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Thomas: Mendoza (mas vino, por favor)

September 28, 2011

Words cannot describe how great this past weekend was. On Thursday night, me and four friends took an overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza (a 13 hour ride), a city located in the West-Central portion of the country and on the foothills of the Andes Mountains. About 110,000 people inhabit Mendoza, and upon arriving I was genuinely surprised by how nice the people were, and how well kept and quiet the city was. A pleasant change from the fast-paced and sometimes rude Buenos Aires.

The Mendoza Province is of course known best for their top industries, wine and olives. The Cuyo region, which includes the Mendoza province and two other Western Argentinian provinces, produces the most wine in all of Latin America and serves people all over the World. Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top varieties of wine produced in the region.

Mendoza has been growing and thriving economically recently because of the growing popularity of wine tourism. My friends and I were added to the list of the thousands of tourists who visit each day to tour vineyards and taste the wine. Saturday was our vineyard touring and wine tasting day. With the sun shining and temperatures in the high 70s, it was a perfect day to be outside. Our group of young tourists became much larger when we merged with people from our hostel we stayed in. Our group now included twelve people from five different countries (Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, and the U.S.). Besides being ridiculously affordable, the best thing about staying in hostels (instead of hotels) is that you get to meet all kinds of cool people from all over the World.

We decided the best way to visit the many vineyards in the countryside was by bicycle. After renting twelve bikes we rode several miles, visiting close to ten vineyards and tasting 3-4 different wines at each location (you do the math). Somehow we all managed to stay on our bikes. It was such a surreal experience, riding quietly along a rode lined with perfectly lined trees on one side and the beautiful Andes mountains in the distance, past the many rows of grapes. What a weekend, indeed.

Our Hostel for the weekend


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Chelsea: It’s 5 a.m., let’s pray!

September 27, 2011

Good morning to all!

I can’t believe it’s already Tuesday. It was a great weekend, but went by way too fast .

This weekend I stayed at home for the fiestas in my neighborhood, San Isidro del Inca. From my understanding, each neighborhood here has its own weekend of festivals in celebration of their “virgin”. This weekend my neighborhood was celebrating La Virgen Mercedes, which basically means 3 days of non-stop activities, music, and dancing! I’m glad I stayed in Quito for it, it was a lot of fun and interesting to see some unique traditions! 

The week before the festival, there is a special prayer service of the rosary every morning…at 5:00am. I went with my family on Friday and Saturday morning, and I’m glad I did! It was a little dark/chilly, but a very different experience! Everyone meets at the church, holding candles, and a big crowd walks the streets of the neighborhood praying/singing the rosary for about an hour. The steep streets and darkness make it a little more interesting, but I really enjoyed it!

I live right across the street from the church, which is where everything took place – so it’s safe to say I was right in the middle of the action. From Friday – Sunday, there were people selling arts & crafts, all types of food and drink, and bands and dancers everywhere! I loved seeing representations of native dances and hearing all of the great local bands play! It was a mixture of rain and sun this weekend, but that didn’t stop any of the festivities!

On Saturday and Sunday, I watched a lot of traditional dances and tried some new foods/drinks, including a few drinks made from varieties of corn! I watched a lot of the concerts and of course danced a lot myself! The traditional Ecuadorian dance is more of a side-to-side shuffle, so it wasn’t hard to learn…and after a few hours of the same dance to different songs, I think I’ve got it covered! 

Above is a picture from Saturday night from the fireworks! This is in the middle of the church plaza, where there is a circle of “yumbos” (representing the Amazon region) dancing around the firework structure. They brought in probably 5 different structures – a plane, cow, etc. and lit off fireworks….right in the middle of all of the people. Let’s just say it probably wasn’t the safest thing since people had to duck from all of the sparks – but…apparently that’s nothing new! I was alertly watching for an umbrella, a tree, or a person to spontaneously combust into flames, but from what I saw, it didn’t happen! 

Overall, a fun weekend!

For this week, I only have classes Monday & Tuesday and have a class trip Wednesday – Friday! I don’t exactly know where we’re going, but it’s somewhere to the South of Quito to visit local communities and see development and microfinance in action! 🙂

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Jon: If I toss a rock, up to 4 countries may shoot

September 26, 2011

I write to you now not from my apartment or the University but from a cabin in NW Jordan. Yesterday I went in for my first day at my internship and received a last minute invite to the Eco Park I will be focusing on. So early this morning I headed north. On the way Abdel (my supervisor) pointed out two Palestinian refugee camps. Overcrowded, crumbling, and little to no economic sustainability or eco-sustainability I am reminded of the urgency of resolving this conflict.

Our first stop was at a man named Joseph’s house. Foeme (Friends of the Earth Middle East) is assisting this man, along with others, to build up eco-tourist spots. He lives right by the Golem Heights and the border where water is abundant. His town use to be a thriving spot for tourists to come enjoy pools and nature, however after the main tourist local was closed (a businessman bought the property and then closed it down because he was in a fight with the local municipality) the area economically died. The beauty of the region is amazing. Joseph gave us a traditional Jordanian lunch which included pita bread with about 6 different dishes to eat it with. It was delicious. Following lunch he showed us around to different sights which were amazing. I was literally within throwing distance of Israel, Syria, and the Golem Heights at times. Finally we made our way to the Eco park, having to show my ID 7 times at each military outpost to get through.
The Eco-park is 2,700 dunams (675 acres) and is purely amazing. About 20 years ago the land was completely destroyed. There was no top soil, little to no vegetation and what they did have was completely overgrazed by Bedouin families. Now, it is thriving! Birds have returned, vegetation is bringing life back to the area, starting as always from small to large. (I just moved a chair in my lodge and a gecko ran out from under it)

I am now just resting before dinner and our evening but I will get the pictures up asap.

Also, as a ‘whats to come’ I will be here tomorrow as well and then Friday-Sunday I will be visiting Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba!!!

Way down the river to the right is Israel, to the immediate right is Golem Heights, to the left is Jordan and behind me is Syria. The river is the Jordan River.
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Hilary: It’s been a while

September 26, 2011

It has been a while!!  I have been busy and been traveling!  Since the new program started I have read many articles about Ecuador, globalization, westernization, the Andean cosmovision, education, the new constitution, and so much more.  I wrote a group paper, and spent great time with amazing people.

As a big group of gringos we travel to communities who are working to sustain their indigenous cultures, cultivate their land, offer everything and more to their youth, and contribute to the world or larger community market.  First we visited a rose plantation, which is communally owned and is on its way to being organic.  (It takes a long time to de-contaminate the soil!)  The roses are beautiful, but for me it was a little sad because, well as one of the workers put it.. “we send the best and most beautiful roses to the United States and keep the others for ourselves.”  This community is struggling right now to sustain their communal plantation and sometimes the full time workers do not receive a salary for the month.  But all the same this community needs the work and income to sustain their lives.  I would love to see us use our amazing technology of the world to know about these kinds of cooperatives and what companies work with them to sell flowers in the United States. With a system of transparency that shows where products come from, how, and in what conditions we could really transform the way international business is run!

The next community we visited was called Cariaku.  This community has made amazing strides in terms of investing in their own communal interests and sharing their lives outer communities in Ecuador.  They sell the milk of their cows to outer communities, but the food they cultivate they keep for themselves.  Cariaku has a very unique community structure, which includes and assembly at the top and many representatives that link the local government to other communities in the surrounding area, the province, and the nation.  They also have eco-tourism, this involves the youth in the community to care for the nature, welcome tourists and get involved in sustaining the local culture. 

I have had some great weekends in Quito exploring the city; riding the teleferico, running in the parks, spending time with friends, practicing, writing a huge paper, dancing in clubs, finding live music, and seeing shows of amazing Andean dance!  This past weekend I had a wonderful surprise and was visited by an amazing person who I met on the coast.  I can’t wait for my next opportunity to be able to travel, share stories, spend time, and stop thinking about graduation!!

My classes the past few weeks have been ok.  I am not learning as much as I would like to in class, and most of the other students talk in English… meh.  I am at one of those low points in the study abroad curve where things aren’t exactly as I would like, but with each weekend and time with people outside of the city my experience gets better.  

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Margaret: 出轨了 – Chūguǐle – derailed

September 25, 2011

Yes, sadly Marg is quite derailed.  I’m beginning to realize that studying and working hard isn’t going to cut it with my classes.  There’s a huge gap in my education between what I learned at Minnesota and what I’m supposed to be learning here.  I can’t magically make up for the language foundation that I never had.  Taking this level of hanyu would be comparable to reading the Sorcerer’s Stone and then skipping to the Deathly Hallows.  None of it would any sense, and the reader would endure 759 pages of Avada Kedavra and Lord Voldemort!  I should probably change classes, however I’m not even proficient enough at the language to tell me my teacher my concerns.  I’ve been unmotivated and somewhat apathetic this week, simply going through the motions.  Let’s hope I can give tomorrow a renewed Margy try.

On the bright side, as soon as Friday hits, I get to temporarily forget about all of it in favor of food, dancing, glitz, and glam.  On Friday night, a few friends and I rented a paddle boat on Houhai.  The boys did all the work!

And now for the newest biggest news since I’ve been here: On Friday I bought train tickets to travel to the North Korean border for next week over a week-long holiday with two guys I met.  I promise there’s no need to jump on a plane and come kidnap me.  One is Keen, a thirty-something MBA student in Tiffany’s program.  He was born and raised in Chinatown in New York City before going to school at Cornell and then moving to Japan.  He’s really interesting because he was on the ground when the planes hit the World Trade Center and when this latest earthquake hit Tohoku.  Just hoping we don’t get arrested on the border!  His buddy is a tall, white excitable and eccentric Australian named Ben who’s in the language program with me, although he’s in nearly the highest level.  He and I packed into a tiny room to buy train tickets from the campus travel agency on Friday.  Everyone was frantic, pushing and shoving to trying to buy tickets at the last minute when most were sold out.  We arrived at the front, and out of this Aussie’s mouth came the fastest Chinese I’ve ever heard a foreigner speak.  The room fell dead silent.  I turned around as if I was on stage to see thirty Chinese people staring at us with big silly grins on their faces.  I burst out laughing, which only added to the spectacle.

On Friday after class we’ll take the Beijing-Tianjin intercity railway, peaking at 217 miles per hour, to Tianjin, or what I like to call Beijing’s brother on the ocean.  The trip is only about thirty minutes.  We’ll spend the night there, getting up on Saturday to take a train (soft sleepers!) to the city of Shenyang.  The trip one-way is $46 USD.  Shenyang is the largest city in northeast China with just over eight million people.  It was used by the Manchus in the 17th century as their capital and is now a major commercial hub with Japan, Korea, and Russia.  Traditional cuisine includes…wait for it…sauerkraut!  We’ll then head to Dandong, presumably by bus or train, which literally lies on the border between China and North Korea.  The main attractions here are the end of the Great Wall and the Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge (lol) over the Yalu River.  Tourists can rent boats to get closer look at the border where the North Korean city of Sinŭiju lies.  North Koreans gather on the edge of the river, waving at foreigners.  We also hope to get to Heaven Lake, a volcanic crater lake within a mountain range, half located in North Korea and half in China.  In North Korean legend, Kim Jong-il was born near this lake.  Dalian, presumably our last destination, is a seaport famed for its beaches, although northeast China is not at all balmy at this time of year.  Ben has advised me to bring a multitude of “jumpers.”

I’m really excited to travel with them, and I think they really know how to do this kind of thing.  I may never have another chance in my life to travel to such a crazy place with two people I just met.  I’m starting to feel like a hippie.  We’re hoping that our destination is a bit off the beaten path as most students are headed to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xi’an, and Inner Mongolia for this Golden Week.  I’m sure I will have a plethora of crazy shenanigans to blog about whenever I return.

After a meeting with my language partner Q, a successful erhu lesson, and the purchasing of a new phone (squat toilets, skinny jeans, and a few drinks make for a deadly combination), I am hoping to be slightly less chuguile going into this week.  In any case, I only need to make it to Friday, and then the big adventure begins!  Gotta go email a professor of Marxism who wants to improve his English.  Zaijian!

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Jon: Le Arabia

September 24, 2011

Arabic. I seriously believe it might be the death of me one day. This weekend concludes my first full week of classes, and I am very much looking forward to the break. Every day I have Arabic for 2 hours and then another hour of Ameea (what the Jordanian dialect is called), however in order to be prepared for class I have to spend about 4 hours a day prepping. That is a lot of Arabic, alas it is what I came here for. My other class, the Environment and Politics of Water, is turning out to be very interesting. We are right now in the pure science of it all so I’m having to double down on the reading and really try to pick it apart but it is intriguing. 

This Sunday I start my internship and I am extremely excited for this! I ended up interning with Friends of the Earth Middle East (http://www.foeme.org/www/?module=home), where I will be designing sustainability standards for one of their EcoParks. Also, the organizer for the internship programs at CIEE seems very intelligent, and has an amazing resume. She has worked on multiple UN projects among other development tasks, and her husband is in charge of the World Health Organization here.

The only other thing I want to comment on today though is about women here in Jordan as I have been consistently surprised here in this regards. In the US we view the hijab and burqa as oppressive, sometimes even as middle eastern women deny this. We also tend to assume the women who wear these garments are more conservative, yet through Amman I have been shown this is not true. Public displays of affection are outlawed in Jordan and while hand holding doesn’t completely fall in that category it is still considered a very ‘liberal’ thing to do in public. Yet I have seen multiple times Muslim women who are wearing the full body burqa holding hands and walking with their boyfriends in public! Honestly I have seen every combination of girls in how ‘liberal’ their clothing is and their own beliefs. Almost every girl wears the headscarf yet they do not seem any more oppressed by it than miniskirts are in America. My favorite example is my Arabic teacher Ghadeen. She wears a headscarf and dresses modestly (covering most skin up) and yet she is the epitome of, excuse my language, a badass. She is not allowed into Saudi Arabia because of articles she’s written, she races cars for fun (though can’t race again till December because of a racing accident), and goes to the shooting range at least once a week. I won’t say for sure if women’s clothing is oppressive, I’m not even sure that it is my place to. But I will say I am very much enjoying the opportunity to learn and live in the Middle East.

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