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Thomas: Reverse Culture Shock

January 4, 2012

It has been over two weeks since I returned from my adventures in South America. It’s been hard to analyze my feelings and emotions since re-entering the United States. Two words describe how life has been during the first two weeks back in my hometown, surreal and stressful.

I arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at about 10:30 am on a Saturday to my eldest sister and niece waiting for me near my baggage claim. Their timing was impeccable. It was good to see familiar faces. Waiting in the van were my sister’s neighbors and good friends who tagged along to keep my sister company on the 2.5 hour car ride to the airport. I was very happy as we left the airport, but everything felt much like a dream. Our first stop after the airport: IKEA. Though not the most ideal “first stop” after getting off the plane, I managed to cope and just enjoy looking at the trendy Swedish furniture and random household nicknacks. My first meal after returning from abroad, Swedish meatballs and potatoes.

The surreal feeling continued throughout the next couple of days. It was strange to meet up with family and see some friends again, although most of my friends who are my age were still in school. The quietness and slow pace of my hometown, along with the farm I grew up was a hard change from the high-speed, always busy streets of Buenos Aires. And even though the weather in Minnesota is a bit “warmer” for December at about 30-40 degrees (F), only now am I getting used to the change from the constant 70+ degrees I left in Buenos Aires.

About three or four days after I got back to the U.S. the physical signs of stress started to emerge. My lips began to tingle and soon, over a 24 hour period broke out into sores. Never has that happened to me before. It was a strange and very uncomfortable phenomenon. It has taken about a week and a half and a lot of medication for them to fully heal. An informal doctor visit claimed it was likely a stress related breakout.

Remembering how to live in Minnesota again has been an interesting and fun experience. I had to learn how to drive again. Getting behind the wheel felt foreign and unnatural at first, but like riding a bicycle you never truly forget. After a few miles on the road, driving felt routine again. Simple differences weren’t that difficult to re-adapt to, but it is always fun to remember the differences in the way of life of Porteños to the way Minnesotans go about simple tasks. I always feel the need to point out the differences to friends or family. I wonder if they are getting annoyed yet.

It’s now fun to speak Spanish! I think my family is getting annoyed by me saying some things in Spanish and then English. When at first I speak Spanish, the dumbfounded reaction on their faces is priceless and quite amusing. Over time, I’ve become accustomed to all-English, but I really hate losing the little Spanish I already know well. I am currently on the wait-list for the only Spanish 1004 class that fits into my busy class schedule at the U of M this Spring.

It is so great to be back in the country I love and to see the people that I missed so dearly. My experiences in South America were absolutely incredible and I do not regret anything. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much that it is really hard to talk about my experiences to others. Many ask how my time in Argentina was, but it’s almost impossible to answer in a sound-bite or a couple minute conversation. I usually ask, how much time do you have? I couldn’t talk about my experiences in minutes, but rather in hours.

Thank you all for reading my thoughts and experiences while abroad. It has been really helpful to write about everything and will be nice to look back on as time moves forward. I hope everyone had a happy and healthy 2011 and hope the new year is even better. Happy 2012 to all!

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Lindsay: Less than 2 weeks and counting

January 4, 2012
A little less than two weeks left til I leave and counting.  I am getting sorta nervous, anxious, excited.  I don’t know if I will ever be prepared enough for something like this, but I think that is what makes it so interesting and thrilling.  I have some idea of what to expect, but who really knows exactly.  They say poverty is something you must overcome while you are there, you must not let it effect you, otherwise it may ruin your whole trip.  
Okay Lindsay-suck it up cupcake, you can do this.  Poverty will be hard at first to see and hard not to want to do something about it.  For example, hand them food or money,  but I must not do that either, for I may get followers and other people wanting food as well.  I was warned to not give things away to people, especially as an American because they know we have money.

Today, I was just assigned my housing and address for the first 6 weeks of my stay in India, and I will have a roommate from the U of M join me in the same house.  Now I only hope the house, well apartment actually, does not have a servant.  I was told many of the upper castes have servants.  Some are even children looking to help make money for their families.  These children often do not get an education.  The family may chose to pay them back by providing them with an education.  This this is very rare and usually happens when the servant is treated like a family member.  Some servants may be treated like family members and may even sleep on an actual bed.  However, they could potentially be treated like dirt and are forced to sleep on the hard ground, and that would be considered socially acceptable.  It would be incredibly rude of me to even make any gesture of sympathy for them.

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Tyler: New Years

January 2, 2012

The past couple of days have been insane. I have constantly been on the go. There is just so much to do here!! Okay so I will start with New Years Eve day…

On New Year’s Eve day we had our first test. For 2 hours before the test, we just had a review session which was really nice. We pretty much quickly covered all the things that we had learned during the week right before the test. For me, I thought the test went pretty well! I hate the anticipation of waiting to get a test back. 

One thing that was really different and that would never happen in any school in the United States is that after our test, they had a ton of salsa and chips for us. They also had bottles of real champagne for us after we got done with our test to bring in the New Year! It was insane! All of us were like, “Is this really happening right now?” It was a lot of fun just hanging out with the teachers for a while.

During the week we have to write one journal entry in Spanish and turn it in to be graded. The first one we had to turn in was on last Thursday and it was supposed to be about the first 3 days that we were in Cuernavaca. My housemates and I all turned ours in together. When Saturday came around and people were getting theirs back with grades on them, I noticed that I hadn’t gotten my back yet so I went and asked one of my teachers. There ended up being a note for me saying that I hadn’t turned it in but I could still turn it in on Monday but lose some points. This is where it gets really complicated. The woman who is in charge of grading them only speaks Spanish, just like the rest of the teachers. I went and saw her and had to explain to her that I had turned it in with my roommates and that they could they could vouch for me. She then asked me to go look in my backpack and notebook again to see if I had it so I did just that, knowing that it wasn’t in there. After “looking” for it, I headed back to her office and told her that I know for sure I turned it in and that it was on notebook paper with my name on it and everything. After she kind of got frustrated with me arguing with her, she finally said that she would look around for it a little later. After the test we all just hung out around the pool at the school for a couple of hours. Right before I was going to leave Nancy, the teacher, comes out with my journal entry graded and said that it had fallen behind a desk or something (I didn’t really understand). There that was a win for me! It is so hard to have a conversation like that with someone when you can only speak a little bit of the language that they only speak. It has definitely been really difficult here at times with the language barrier but it is also a lot of fun as well.

After that mess in the afternoon, we headed back to our house and hung out there for the rest of the day until it was time for us to head out. That night we went to this club called “Juarez Cuatro”. It was the recommended club for us to go to because the head of the school knew the owner of the club. It was really expensive but it was also a lot of fun. This is where a lot of people may have made their New Year “mistakes” that night at the club (haha). It was really packed. They pretty much only played American dance music which was cool because we knew all the words.  Here are a few pictures of me throughout the night…notice how sweaty I am, I was definitely dancing a ton.

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Lindsay: Why do I want to go to India?

January 2, 2012

When I was a freshman here at the University of Minnesota in 2009, I had no idea what I wanted to major in.  I enrolled in the Swahili language because I knew Spanish was full and I have always liked studying languages but I didn’t realize the University offered so many. I took Swahili for a single semester and realized that I enjoyed learning about other cultures, but Africa wasn’t the region I wanted to study. Immediately I thought about becoming a Global Studies Major with an emphasis in South Asia.  I had always been entranced by the culture and society of India, as well as the Hindi scripture.  Therefore, beginning my sophomore year, I began taking Hindi classes and have completed one full year of Hindi so far and am enrolled for the upcoming semester.

Currently, I am majoring in Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Deviance and am minoring in Family Violence Prevention, and I have extreme interest in domestic abuse and international violence.  I would really love to intern in India and work closely with advocates and other townspeople on the issues of violence at hand in their region of India.  I have taken courses such as Gender Violence in Global Perspectives, Intimate Partner Violence, as well as an Indian Feminisms course which has taught me how to deal, analyze, and respond to different issues relating to violence and discrimination.  I was first interested in these issues when I was a freshman and I enrolled in a Freshman Seminar where we were able to choose our own topic of interest and create a research project about it.  A group of two other girls and me decided to research Sex Trafficking.  We realized it was a harsh and not widely known topic, but it think that was what intrigued us the most.  Researching this topic really sparked my interest in violence occurring in other countries across the globe, not just in the United States.  Since then, I have always been interested in getting into the Criminal Justice field or Law Enforcement. I would love to gain hands-on experience, especially in the Criminal Justice side of things when it comes to these issues, and especially on how India, in particular, responds to violence.

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Chiyo: The Gap

January 2, 2012

Happy New Year everyone! This year, I’m trying to strive NOT to make any resolutions because I can never stick to them. Instead, all I want for this year is to continue to grow in my career path, graduate from college, and stay healthy. I’ve got some great ideas for where I want to be career wise, and today I have an interview with a company whom I absolutely adore. The Gap.

I had applied for The Gap while still in London along with several other job applications, hoping I would hear a call back from someone (but specifically hoping I’d hear from The Gap). I love how classic they are, and they remind me of a more affordable Ralph Lauren. I’m excited for this interview, as I already had a phone interview last week which I thought went well, and after taking a class on interviews, and having an amazing internship in London this past semester, I feel like I am ready for today.

I told myself that I wanted to turn this blog into a fashion blog so in honor of my interview with The Gap tonight, I am posting this great mood board of menswear at The Gap. Why menswear you may ask? Well…I have discovered my passion for menswear, and that is where I want to be in the fashion industry. I have found my niche, and can’t wait to see where it will take me!

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Margaret: 圣诞节 – Shèngdàn jié – Christmas

January 1, 2012

I am tired.  After a truly excruciating week of exams (one test had over 225 new characters), Michael and I headed to WuDaoKou last night to ring in the new year, albeit without plans or 150 RMB tickets to Nova, Beijing’s biggest New Year’s Eve party.  Before we knew it, we found ourselves in a bar surrounded by friends!  In a blur of colors, lights, drinks, and taxis, we were waltzing down the red carpet leading into Nova, housed in a giant, disused industrial gas tank.  Beijing nights…  Happy New Year!

And Merry Christmas!  Amidst all the exam and travel preparations, I haven’t been able to blog at all about my Chinese Christmas adventures, which I must say they were quite exciting!  Initially, my group of friends wanted to have Christmas Day brunch at a hotel in Beijing.  Most of the foreign hotels host lavish meal with free flowing champagne in thoroughly decked halls, so naturally they’re incredibly expensive.  At the last minute, Michael and I opted out and jumped in a cab on Christmas Eve heading to none other than IKEA.  Maybe a few years down the line when I’m a rich Beijing business professional (哈哈) I will wine and dine with Beijing’s finest at the Westin, but at the moment, you just can’t beat a 15 RMB plate of Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes on Christmas.  We expected to see more but nonetheless spotted a few other foreigners who had had the same idea.  On the way out, we stopped by the Swedish food mart for some ginger snaps – a real treat!

Although I no longer consider myself a Christian, I was raised Catholic and have gone to church on Christmas every year since I was born.  Over the past few months I’ve been interested in attending a Catholic church here to see what it’s like in Asia but never got around to it.  What better day to go than Christmas, right?  Wrong, but I’ll get to that later.  After gallivanting around IKEA for an hour or so after dinner, it was still several hours away from the 11 o’clock midnight mass.  We headed to the church via subway but got off one stop early at Xidan, a popular commercial area in Beijing that I had just done Christmas shopping at the night before.  The square was full of young people laughing, holding hands, and, funnily enough, wishing others a Merry Christmas.  

The trees were beautifully decorated in gold Christmas lights, and a section of the square had actually been fenced off and lined with hundreds of thousands of white lights, giving the illusion of snow.  We spotted a Santa promoting a nearby blood bank, so naturally I made Michael pose for a photo!  It was a lovely evening, and the joy of the holiday could literally be felt in the air.  A young man approached us to sell us apples wrapped in brightly colored tissue paper.  Earlier in the day I had gone to WuDaoKou to do some last minute Christmas shopping.  Around every corner, vendors could be found selling Christmas hats, cakes, and even Santa suits, but by far the most commonly sold items were apples and oranges.  I bought a huge orange in an elaborate pink Christmas box and asked the girl why Chinese people eat apples and oranges on Christmas.  She said it’s because the word for “apple,” 平果, has the same character as the word for “peace,” 平安.  This struck me as beautiful, and when I peeled into my orange, I reminisced nostalgically about Christmas mornings past when my brothers and I would run downstairs to our stockings to find big apples or giant oranges placed there by my mother, who had done so just like her mother before her.

Finally it was time to head to church.  Beijing has four major Catholic churches: a north church, south church, east church, and west church.  I chose the south church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for midnight mass even though it was perhaps the farthest from IKEA.  The foundation of the original cathedral was laid in 1605, making it the oldest church in Beijing, but the current building dates back to 1904.  I chose this church because the present archbishop, Joseph Li Shan, was presiding.  Interestingly, he is one of only a few bishops recognized fully by both the Vatican and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church.

When we exited the subway station, we entered into the church’s pseudo front yard.  We immediately encountered long tables lined full of creche figurines and framed holographic pictures of Mary and Jesus that were being sold.  People were everywhere, and we were hassled into a line by men with megaphones.  I asked a woman behind me what the line was for, and she responded, “圣诞节礼物!”  Christmas gifts.  Umm what?  Red candles in the shape of apples were shoved into our hands before we were quickly shuttled off.  It was absurd but nonetheless a heartwarming surprise.

We finally arrived in front of the church, but when we tried to enter, another megaphone blared in our ears telling us to get in line.  And then we saw it.  A line a mile long!  We started walking.  And walking and walking and walking.  More men with megaphones kept yelling something about having a 票, a ticket.  My heart sank as I looked down the line at the green tickets in everyone’s mitts.  I had read something on the internet about how church goers were required to buy tickets for midnight mass in 2004, a policy met with outrage that was subsequently revoked.  Eventually I decided to stop walking and ask someone in line how we could buy a ticket.  The magic of the evening was truly heavy the air that night because I somehow managed to stop and ask probably two of the only people in line with extra tickets.  I grappled with my language as I tried to express my delight for their graciousness, eventually blurted out “Merry Christmas” as Michael and I headed away to the end of the line.

While we were waiting, a couple in line in front of us turned around and asked in broken English, “What will happen inside?  Will we eat?”  Umm no?  I quickly discovered that the large majority of the people who had come to attend mass were not only not Christian, but they had no idea what Christmas was.  They were simply curious and had heard that you were supposed to go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve.  This little gem of Chinese culture drove me crazy when our section of the line finally arrived at the doors of the church and they stopped letting people in.  Michael and I were confined to a jam packed square out front of the church.  Two huge television screens showed the happenings inside, and familiar carols sung in Chinese spilled out the wide open doors.  As we waited for mass to begin, none other than Santa came tearing up the aisles of the church, tossing candy into the crowd.  How Catholic, am I right?

The only good part about standing outside in the freezing cold in poorly selected tights and pumps was that the procession came right through us.  People all around us were pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the action.  Amidst the chaos, archbishop Li Shan looked simply at peace.

Right after mass began, we left.  It was simply too cold to be standing out there any longer, and the mass was entirely in Chinese save for an “amen” here an there.  It would have been cool to hear it though.  On Christmas day we headed to the east church for an English mass, and I was surprised that I still knew almost the entire mass word for word.  It would have been very easy to follow along.  In the cab on the way back to Zhongguanxinyuan, Michael and I agreed to open one Christmas present each.  We both outdid ourselves and had a plethora of wrapped gifts under my six inch Carrefour Christmas tree.  My gifts consisted entirely of chocolate, as I had requested.  We fell asleep watching “Miracle on 34th Street,” a tradition my family usually practices on Thanksgiving, although I had had exams the Friday after this year.

The next morning, Michael and I were joined by two of our friends, Megan and Angus, for a delicious breakfast of pancakes, sausages, home fries, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate before heading to the east church via cab.  We arrived about fifteen minutes before mass was scheduled to begin, and we joined the mob of about fifty or so foreigners and Chinese outside the locked front doors. We waited and waited and waited.  All of asudden it was 4:00, and then 4:15, and then 4:20.  Finally someone came around and said the side door was open.  Michael and I and a few others ventured over and went in.  To our surprise and frustration, mass was already thoroughly underway with about eight hundred people already in attendance.  We stood in the back.  The mass was exactly the same as a Christmas mass in Minnesota.  The songs, the prayers, the giving of people, all the same.  The only difference was the old white minister stopped and asked in truly the worst Chinese I’ve ever heard for more volunteers to help administer communion.  It was pathetic…

Michael and I had dinner at Subway (our favorite!) after trying and failing to locate a quality Chinese restaurant in a nearby new glitzy shopping mall on Wangfujing.  After a stop in the foreign bookstore, we strolled up and down the decorated street of Wangfujing, veering off down the snack street before heading home.  We passed on the star fish.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Lauren: Home Sweet Home

January 1, 2012

But now I need to catch you up on some things:

1. The day I almost died. On November 13th I went on a jeep safari on Langjökull glacier. It was AWESOME! I saw so many amazing sights and it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I got this opportunity through Inspired by Iceland and I was allowed to bring one guest, so my friend Emily Anderson came along! We packed a lunch filled hit the road early in the morning with our guide Sverrir. It was a caravan of about 50 jeeps and we had a blast! Until we almost died. Glaciers are tricky little things. They are solid ice and constantly moving so the ice cracks and crevasses form. Snow covers cracks and it makes glaciers very dangerous places to be! But I just had to keep telling myself that Sverrir knew what he was doing… until of course our jeep fell into a crack! It was so terrifying! But I lived to tell the tale…. However, I think for now I will take a little break from glaciers.

All the jeeps!


Our Jeep with Sverrir!

2. My trip to Berlin and Prague! Two of my friends, Emily Wall and Akeem, and I went to Berlin and Prague November 14th-21st. We had such a nice time. I experienced staying in a hostel for the first time in my life among many other things that I tried or saw that I may never have an opportunity to again. We flew into Berlin and stayed at The Circus Hostel in a room withe 4 sets of bunkbeds, 1 rude Irish guy, and 3 friendly Brazlians. That night we walked around our neighborhood in Berlin and got some delicious CHEAP food for the first time in months! Since everything is so expensive in Iceland we were LOVING the prices in Germany and the Czech Republic…. maybe a little too much in my case. The next day we took a nice little bus ride to Prague. I LOVED PRAGUE! I loved everything about Prague, the food, the shopping, the castles, the EVERYTHING. I would definitely go to Prague again. It was so beautiful. We were in Prague for 3 days and then we went back to Berlin for 3 days. Berlin, although a really historic city, was not my favorite. It was kind of eerie to me to think about everything that has happened in Berlin from WWII to communism… it just kind of made me sad. But despite that, we went on a GREAT bike tour and I learned a lot about the city. The trip was really fun but I couldn’t help but think about how much I wished my family was with me! If you click THIS then it will bring you to my Facebook photo album. It has pictures from both my trip AND the glacier safari. But here are some of my favorites:

 

 

 

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